By Shamim Akhtar

I still remember the first time I met you Mary.

The year was 2012 and you were going to deliver some radio training sessions to a group of women who had come to a point in their life where they were stuck in a rut and needed a little confidence boosting.

I was one of these women.

You see I had given up work to care for my daughter who has additional needs and this, as well as bringing up my three other children meant that I had lost my identity along the way and 16 years of social isolation had taken it’s toll.

It had taken a lot of courage to take the scary steps of leaving the house and attending your workshops, but little did I know that walking through the doors of BCB, I would never look back.

I thought my journey would end with you once we had finished the sessions – how wrong was I.  Here I am eight years later, not only a fully-fledged broadcaster with BCB, but I am also serving on our Management Committee as a member.

I have had some amazing opportunities and I have done things that I never imagined I would be fortunate enough to.  I share my story, to say thank you to you Mary, for it is you who has made this possible.  I can see you about to protest as you often do when I say this to you, but it is the truth.

You believe in me Mary. You encourage me and whenever you come up to me and say “Sham…what do you think about…?” I will always say yes without even thinking because I trust you and know you would never set me up to fail.

You would never put anyone forward for something because you felt sorry for them, you do so because you see their potential, even if they can’t see it.

Of course, I always doubt myself as you know but you are there, telling me I can do this and willing me to push myself and to take these opportunities with both hands.  Were it not for your support and guidance, I would never have had the confidence to apply for the job that I am doing now as an Outreach Worker.

You came into my life as someone to help me learn a new skill and quickly became so much more.  You are my mentor, my confidante and most of all you are my friend.  Someone who has brought me out of many dark moments.

I know you are never one to laud attention and although you appreciate when you are given an award and accolade, it is never about them, you do what you do because you are passionate about Bradford and its people.

BCB is what it is because of the hard work you put into it.  To the outside world, it is a place where radio programmes are produced and aired, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be part of it, it means so much more.  You have made such a difference to so many lives and created a safe space that has given us volunteers a new lease of life.

Mary, I know you do not think you should not get this recognition for what you do but you thoroughly deserve it and I am not the only one who thinks so.  Here is what our BCB Management Committee Chair, Dom Burch had to say: “I first met Mary at a Positive Bradford event in City Park when I was volunteering and manning a stand. Mary approached me with her clipboard and before I knew it, I was signed up as a guest on Roundtable. Within a few months, I was trained as a presenter, co-opted onto the board and now have the privilege of chairing our management committee.

“Mary works her magic day in day out – spotting the best in others, supporting those who need a little arm around their shoulder or helpful nudge in the right direction. She’s an absolute superstar – humble, caring, values driven. She shuns the limelight, but deserves all the plaudits and attention she’s rightly getting now!”

So I end this by saying you are one of a kind Mary Dowson and I am truly fortunate to have you in my life.  Congratulations on a richly deserved BEM