Take a trip to the seaside town of Sheerness, which sits on the Isle of Sheppey on the north edge of the Kent coastline, and you’re confronted with a giant mural of a mermaid lying on the beach.
With the headline ‘Welcome to Sheerness – you’ll have a blast’, the mermaid has her hand placed on a TNT detonation plunger.
This bizarre piece of artwork is a nod to the town’s curious shipwreck tourist attraction which lies just a mile and a half offshore.
With its rusting masts visible in the middle of the Thames Estuary, this is the American munitions ship, SS Richard Montgomery, which sank during the Second World War with 1,400 tonnes of high explosives aboard.
With a radio station, you listen because there is entertainment and we can feed in the Rotary news as part of the package.”
For some of Sheerness’ 25,000 inhabitants, the thought of those munitions exploding on this historic town is unimaginable because just half a mile from the shore in Blue Town sits the historic Criterion Theatre and Heritage Centre.
Built 151 years ago, this was once the Criterion Hotel and Music Hall which, in its heyday in the late 19th century, offered ‘rational amusement for all classes’ including, in April 1876, a one-armed juggler.
Since then, the Criterion has had a chequered history, and once fell into disrepair after a bombing raid targeted at the docks during World War One.
But the Criterion is now a heritage centre, featuring a cinema, a theatre and, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the home of Rotary’s first radio station, Rotary Radio UK (RRUK).
We believe a radio station is something younger people will be attracted to, either listening to what we are broadcasting, or wanting to get involved, we are finding that is the case already.”
The radio station was launched last October, led by chairman Steve Wood and studio manager John Robinson.
The aim of the station is to raise awareness of Rotary as a dynamic and charitable organisation and also boost membership.
“We established Rotary Radio UK because we felt Rotary, as an organisation, needed to get more publicity,” explained Steve, a member of Sittingbourne Invicta Rotary, whose previous experience was in hospital radio.
“We felt the medium of radio was an ideal way of achieving this.
“Websites are absolutely fine and they get lots of hits, but you visit a website to look at it and then you walk away.
“With a radio station, you listen because there is entertainment and we can feed in the Rotary news as part of the package. Hopefully, it means we hold on to people for a lot longer.
“We hear Rotary is suffering from an ageing population and we are finding it difficult to recruit young people.
“We believe a radio station is something younger people will be attracted to, either listening to what we are broadcasting, or wanting to get involved, we are finding that is the case already.”
Ten months in, and the radio station is still in its infancy.
Currently John, also a Sittingbourne Invicta Rotarian with a hospital radio background, is in the midst of an extensive training programme for new presenters. Meanwhile media man Brian Portway, from Gravesend Rotary, is feeding in a selection of news items to the live programming each day.
Programming can be heard on the internet, and the promising early audience figures indicate RRUK is reaching out to people in over 100 countries around the world.
Rotary Radio UK was funded with £5,000 from Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland, as well as a grant from Rotary South East, and thanks to the benevolence of Jenny Hurkett, owner of the Criterion and a Past President of Minster Rotary, the station uses a corner of the theatre for its two studios.
Steve reckons it costs around £3,000 a year to run the station, which they hope to offset with advertising once Rotary Radio UK is established and its audience grows.
“We want to promote the Rotary message to tell people what we are doing,” added John.
“And we want to do this in an engaging and entertaining way.
“Rotary Radio UK is a lot of fun, and we are getting involved with the community telling them about the wonderful work of Rotary.”
Here’s our story about @rotaryradiouk interviewing team @evolve_GB from @qegs_faversham about @f1inschoolsUK @F1inSchoolsHQ the other day. https://t.co/gUrY9lChYS 🎤🎤🎤Want to #sponsor them? Get in touch! #STEM #nextgenengineers #british #worldfinals #Dubai pic.twitter.com/yki73WnQoX
— Canterbury Rotary (@RotaryCantUK) June 21, 2019
Although based in Sheerness, the Rotary Radio UK team is hoping to recruit more broadcasting talent who, with training, could record and produce content in their own locality.
Though there is currently 14 hours of live programming a week, the aim is to grow over the coming year working with Rotarians across Great Britain and Ireland once more presenters are trained.
“What’s great about Rotary Radio UK is we can change people’s perceptions about the organisation,” added Brian.
“If we can show what Rotary is doing and the good we are doing in communities, we can persuade more people who are listening to take the next step and join a Rotary club.”