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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Story gathering partnerships

During the WW2 People's War project, the BBC launched a national story gathering campaign, and worked with a range of partners and organisations to provide technical assistance to veterans without computer access or the skills to add their stories online. At the time of the project's launch in 2003, few people over 65 had any experience using the internet and an important aim of the project was to train an older audience to use computers and to familiarise them with the benefits of the internet.

Story gathering at The National Trust's Birmingham 'Back to Backs'

Over 2,500 associate centres signed up to the project. They provided internet access to the communities they served, and through them over 2,000 volunteers were trained as story gatherers. A range of partner organisations offered support, training and story gathering expertise - from age agencies to schools, museums, libraries and archives. These organisations all ran events that encouraged veterans and their families to add their stories to the website. Stories were gathered at grassroots level, in local libraries and museums, and at events such as 1940s tea parties, big band concerts, airshows or steam railway festivals.

'We all fought a different war. I have my story to tell, and when you talk to these other gentlemen, you'll hear about the war they fought. It's important to understand how different it was for everyone.' - Contributor to WW2 People's War, York

WW2 People's War street party, Darvel, ScotlandThe story gathering campaign ran in two phases:

Phase 1 - A network of partner centres was established, giving older people the opportunity to get supported access to the internet.

Phase 2 - Broadcast co-ordinators were recruited to support the work of the partners in each region, ensuring local radio and regional TV promotion and support for events. A partnership with volunteering organisations was set up, providing assistance in gathering the stories and adding them to the site.

Culture Online

One key partner for the WW2 People's War project was Culture Online, a division of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) whose aims were to increase participation in and access to our culture through the use of new technology.

In May 2004, Culture Online commissioned the BBC and Age Concern to recruit four specialist outreach officers in Yorkshire, West Midlands, the south west and the east of England. Their remit was to tackle the 'digital divide' by encouraging and supporting 'hard to reach', non IT-literate older audiences, those at risk from social isolation and elders from black and ethnic minority groups. These outreach officers created partnerships with community groups and volunteers, and worked closely with local organisations to deliver computer taster sessions and other activities.

These four appointments, with the help of two Age Concern IT buses based in Staffordshire and Somerset, resulted in the following:

  • 800 events organised between May 2004 to May 2005
  • 260 organisations signed up as partners and ran events
  • 87,000 people took part in WW2 People's War activities
  • 43% of these participants were over 60 and had not used a computer before
  • 32% received help with the internet and felt this improved their understanding of the medium
  • one in 20 new users took up using the internet after the event

Qualitative evaluation showed that the project was successful in engaging thousands of older people in using the internet.

Associate centres and other partners

'This project has been a really good way of helping Artscope users to re-engage with each other and the community. It's been very hard work, but with the partnership we can share the load. The events are such fun that it makes it all worthwhile.' - Artscope project, Age Concern Birmingham, which partnered with the National Trust Back to Backs, Birmingham

Associate centres were recruited across the country to support the story gathering campaign. Many thousands of events took place as a result of their participation. Here is a selection of organisations that were involved:

  • Age Concern, older people's forums and clubs
  • Local museums, libraries and archives and their regional 'umbrella' organisations - members of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
  • Volunteer bureaux
  • Royal British Legion, ex-services' and evacuees' organisations
  • Black, ethnic minority and religious community groups
  • Schools and youth groups
  • NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) and adult learners groups
  • Local history organisations
  • The National Trust, Steam Railways and other heritage bodies
  • Arts and theatre groups
  • Town councils
  • Learning centres

'I would like to do it again... we've actually been able to go out into the communities... for us it's been a fantastic PR exercise as well... we've never worked in this way before.'

The project encouraged cross-sectoral working and skills sharing between heritage, learning and information providers, volunteer bureaux and agencies such as Age Concern or Older People's Forums. This worked particularly well in areas where a Culture Online outreach officer could support the partners in their joint ventures.

Working with volunteers

'It's the first time we've worked with a volunteer bureau. It's wonderful to have the support... Without the volunteer help we wouldn't be able to staff the Wartime Wednesdays' - Library Manager, Worcestershire

The collection of stories was found to be very time-consuming and volunteer help proved vital in helping older participants bridge the gap between telling their story and getting it online. The benefits were mutual.

'Elderly people have so much to give us... I love listening to their stories... so much to learn from old people'

A partnership between the BBC and CSV (Community Service Volunteers) Action Desk network was set up, which enabled over 2,000 volunteers to be recruited and trained. Many were recruited through calls to action on air via BBC radio stations, or through networks such as schools and youth organisations, volunteering and friends' groups, local history, adult education and church societies.

Many volunteers found the experience extremely rewarding. Resources were allocated for them to be trained and supported, and the experience of engaging with the project was often transforming. The 'outreach officers' helped establish a pattern of working for the volunteers in their regions, whereby they were given advice and the support of local organisations, some of whom had not worked with volunteers before.

'One volunteer has come on in leaps and bounds since becoming involved in the project. At first he only wanted to do the typing. Now his confidence has blossomed and he can't get enough stories.'

The BBC brand

'We always listened to the BBC during the war. We knew we could trust them.'

'It helps to work with a name that's known... gives me credibility.'

Feedback suggests that the BBC name was crucial in giving participants a sense of taking part in something national and significant. The BBC had played a central role for many during wartime, and the trust engendered by memories of this made them proud to be asked to contribute to the website.

'I would like to thank the BBC for all its wonderful history programmes and for allowing me to write down my history too.'

BBC Radio Newcastle's bus broadcasting a live WW2 People's War programmeRegular broadcast promotion was necessary to inspire the audience to get involved, but also to motivate partners to stay involved. During spring and summer 2005, 15 dedicated WW2 People's War broadcast co-ordinators were appointed in 12 regions and 3 nations of the UK - providing support to recruit and train volunteers, to provide broadcast coverage of events and to encourage many more local people to contribute to the website.

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