World War One at Home – a nationwide digital project

The World War One at Home project is delivering local stories about World War One on the Home Front across radio, TV & online. We talk to digital producer Katherine Campbell about her work with broadcast teams and partners in bringing thousands of stories to life.

My role is to deliver the digital aspect of the World War One at Home project. This project, run by BBC English Nations and Regions, shows the war in a new light, through the stories of the people and places on the Home Front. Over 1,000 stories will be broadcast across local, regional and national TV through 2014, with 1,400 by the end of 2014 – and all of these will be hosted online as a permanent collection.

On radio and TV, the audience will experience stories from their own areas. Online, they’ll be able to find stories from across the country for years after the programmes have broadcast. And thanks to the partnership with the Imperial War Museum and the AHRC (Arts, Humanities and Research Council), journalists have been working with incredible archive and historians across the country.

My job is to work with over 40 local and national teams to deliver the online content and ensure the project joins up with the rest of the BBC's World War One offer and our partner the Imperial War Museum's projects such as Lives of the First World War. 223 stories went live when it launched in the last week of February, 2014. Another 800 are planned for the rest of the year. It’s fantastic to see the project developing and the stories taking shape.

“Producing an online package about a historical event that happened 100 years ago and will be online indefinitely is not the usual broadcast journalist task.” – Katherine Campbell

In the past I produced the WW2 People’s War project that gathered the memories of veterans of WW2 into an online archive of over 48,000 stories. With the British Museum, I produced the online offering for A History of the World. We worked with museums and the public to upload thousands of pictures and descriptions of objects around the 100 British Museum objects that formed the heart of the project.  World War One at Home takes a similar approach. How can we use individual stories to paint a broader historical picture, and how can we bring together partners, and teams across the BBC, to deliver this?

Producing an online package about a historical event that happened 100 years ago and will be online indefinitely is not the usual broadcast journalist task. But these are still about people, places and events, and they each have a brilliant local focus, often absent from the standard World War One histories. And the shelf life will be longer than your average news feature. It has also forged new connections in the areas, through working with museums, local historians and archives.  

Viewing history through a local lens makes audiences realise that places that they walk past every day played a crucial role in the global conflict and that their ancestors may well have been one of the thousands of volunteers who kept the Home Front moving. This approach brings history closer and more personal, and can interest us in different ways to a TV documentary. You can find stories that bring a local view of the war – from local landmarks such as Bristol ZooManchester’s Palace Theatre or Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol – and discover stories area by area across the UK & Ireland. Or explore by theme, and see how the bigger events were experienced at a local level – the response to the Zeppelin threat in RedcarWiltshireWalsall or Edinburgh. How women’s football took off in NewcastleMerseyside or Cumbria. Tracking the change in women’s roles from Cardiff, to Manchester, to Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Belfast. Stories such as England's bravest street (Altringham, Manchester), Ireland's first airship docking station (Whitehead, County Antrim) and the production in Birmingham of the whistle which was used the signal to go over the top of the trenches.

In launch week alone over several hundred thousand people came to the site, as the stories went out from stations from across the UK – and we hope the project continues to ignite people’s interest. As well as bringing our audiences closer to the history that matters to them, the project will bring the wider World War One offer closer to them. World War One at Home tells the local story – our colleagues in TV and radio, News and the interactive guides produced by Knowledge and Learning will bring the global perspective. The two approaches complement each other perfectly and together give a comprehensive view of those momentous years.

The stories are amazing. Find something now in your area, or explore the stories by theme and see the national picture.

Picture Credit: Image shows Cornhill, Lincoln. Old photograph courtesy of Lincolnshire Archives.