Communities Telling Their Stories

It gives me great pleasure to be able to write about this now. It’s been a while in gestation, but a project I am very proud of is nearing its fruition.

Sponsored by the Local Government Improvement and Development Tobacco Control Unit, I have been working with the Wrekenton Lantern Group. They are a group of women, all of them ex-smokers, living in Wrekenton, Gateshead, who came together to revive the tradition of Lantern Parades in their local community. They ran a “test” parade at Halloween 2010, and then built towards their big event, a major parade on National No Smoking day, March 9th 2011.

The Group worked with local schools and an artist to build elaborate lanterns designed around the theme “Time to Quit”.


They’ve been able to involve a wide range of the local community in their activity through building the lanterns. They also encouraged school children to attach their own messages to the lanterns about their own hopes and fears about family members who smoke.

All this activity culminated in more than 200 people taking part in the March 9th Parade and around 250 people were waiting for the parade to arrive at a local school.

Lantern2It was a wild, windy and blustery night. But the turnout for the parade made it all worthwhile for members of the Group and those who supported them.

My role in all this has been to work with the Group to help them use social media to amplify and celebrate their activity, to spread their message and to engage both with other community members and agencies, politicians and policy makers. So successful has the Group been in spreading its message that Tyne Tees TV visited on 9th March and ran part of their North East Tonight regional news programme live from the event.

The main concentration of my work with the Group was in helping them to document and celebrate their work in video. This is the kind of work I like best. I do filming myself, but I get particular satisfaction from passing the skills on to people who really need to know how to use them. The process with the Wrekenton Group was especially interesting. My first few sessions with them were quite difficult. The Group members are people who have a lot going on in their lives, and I think, at first at least, most of them found it a bit difficult to see why video making should be important. And, then, it all clicked into place. I turned up for one session and, instead of cracking on with showing them the next bit of video editing technique, I was told to sit down and watch what they had done since the last session. So they put the video on and I sat back in amazement, genuinely staggered by the progress they had made. From that point on they had got the bug and were really enthused about film making and testing what they could do with it.

Lantern3The Group showed a draft version of their video at the National No Smoking Day event, and it was warmly received by the audience of local people. Especially popular were the appearances of local school children, each of which was greeted with wild cheering by the friends of the child in question.

The Group has got the video-making bug now, and, not only do they want to go on to make more films, but they also want to pass on the skills that I was able to show them to other groups in their community, and, potentially, the wider Gateshead area. From the point of view of the Tobacco Control Unit who commissioned this process this is a double win. Not only is there now a group of ex-smokers, living in a community with a high incidence of smoking, with a video to show that disseminates their anti-smoking messages, but, their desire to pass on these skills to other local residents will give them opportunities to show their film, with its messages, as a demonstration to others of what can be done in the film-making field.

And so, the film itself is presented below, or at least the latest version is. There is still a bit more editing to be done. And, no, it’s not the most professional film production in the world, there’s some shaky camera work in there and some jerky edits, but from a standing start to producing this in just a few weeks is pretty amazing I think. And, with all such projects, it’s not necessarily the polished final production that matters, it is the process the Group members have gone through to get here. And the two most important points are (1) that this shows other ordinary people living in communities in Wrekenton that they can tell their own positive stories using the power of video and social media; and (2) that those people now have a tool to disseminate their anti-smoking messages.

This last point is, I think, particularly important. I have always believed that peer-to-peer messages are far more acceptable than those disseminated by professionals, however well they are presented and package. People wanting to quit smoking in Wrekenton, Gateshead and elsewhere now have access to positive messages from people just like them who have been there, done it, and continue to keep up the fight.


And, now, here’s a slightly snappier version of the video with a bit more coverage of the National No Smoking Day event.