A Redbridge project offers voice to people with disabilities

PUBLISHED: 13:00 30 September 2013

DJ Jez Essex, Robert Spill, Cathy Jones, John Elliffe, Cynthia Bowling and Patrick Daintith

DJ Jez Essex, Robert Spill, Cathy Jones, John Elliffe, Cynthia Bowling and Patrick Daintith


»Twenty people are sitting in a studio talking about how they have been victims of hate crime.

History factbox

Uniting Friends was founded by Russell Lerner, who is now CEO of the charity, in 1996.

It was run by Barnardo’s until 2001 and then gained independent status to run as a charity in its own right soon after.

It currently has 250 members and supports people with learning disabilities of all abilities from Redbridge and the surrounding boroughs.

The project is managed by a board of trustees along with a steering group of service users.

For more details of services, you can call the group on 020 8551 8800.

One woman says she was hit, called names and bullied. She feels angry about it and believes it was not dealt with properly by the police.

Emotions are high and it makes for a great show.

Their views are being 
recorded for United Friends Radio, based in Beehive Hill, Gants Hill, which is run by and aimed at people with learning disabilities.


DJ Jez Essex and Patrick Daintith doing a showDJ Jez Essex and Patrick Daintith doing a show

The project will celebrate its second birthday with a party next month, and organisers say they never dreamed it would be so successful.

Dubbed the “voice of people with learning disabilities”, the show explores topics that truly affect its listeners every day.

It questions what it means to feel included in a community, what its listeners would like to change for people with learning disabilities in Redbridge, how people can gain their independence and also deal with independent living, and what love feels like.

For most, it is their first time being recorded for a 
radio show and an opportunity to be part of a professional setting.

Robert Spill and John Elliffe talking into the microphoneRobert Spill and John Elliffe talking into the microphone

CEO Russell Lerner, who founded the station, says it has been a lifeline for many of those taking part.

He said: “We have seen some people’s confidence build enormously while others have had improved reading skills.

“There have been some 
really positive results.

“Our members have various degrees of learning disabilities, and some need more support than others, but there is no barrier preventing them from taking part.”

Cathy Jones and Cynthia Bowling talking into the microphoneCathy Jones and Cynthia Bowling talking into the microphone

One of those involved is Robert Spill, 37, of Gants Hill, who has helped broadcast since the start and is one of the original co-presenters.

He said: “Russell asked me to join as he thought that it may help build my confidence. By doing this I have become more confident and more outgoing.

“I have learned new skills and I listen to people and will ask them to explain further if I don’t understand what they say.

“I look forward to taking part every month and the 
radio station is exciting and is something I wouldn’t have done before.”

DJ Jez EssexDJ Jez Essex

The project is part of a project by charity Uniting Friends, which has run schemes for adults with learning disabilities for 16 years.


Presenter Jez Essex said: “The radio station has 
exceeded expectations; now we have more than 30 people 
involved in each monthly broadcast.

“We wanted to give the learning disabilities community a voice as we felt there wasn’t an opportunity for them to have their say in this kind of way.

Cynthia BowlingCynthia Bowling

“We wanted to set up a 
radio station that would be fun and give people an opportunity to experience being part of a production team and learn new skills.

“Back then, we were happy to give marginalised people a voice and produce a pilot show and then when we managed to obtain funding, we realised we were on to something very special.”

People with learning disabilities are involved in every aspect of the show, from presenting on air to producing CDs of the show which are sent out to people not able to listen over the internet.

They also hosted local boy band Got the Formula, who belted out their latest single on the airwaves to listeners.

CEO of Uniting Friends, Russell LernerCEO of Uniting Friends, Russell Lerner

Jez added: “We have grown considerably in two years and we have also got to the stage where we preview new music and entertain celebrities.

“I’m very enthusiastic about our future indeed!”

If you would like to get involved visit or, to listen to the show, go to

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