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How The Access Project empowered its storytellers in lockdown

7 August 2020

At The Access Project (TAP) telling our young people’s stories has always been important. Before lockdown things were easier; we could meet with our students face to face so accessing stories was more straightforward. But as we all know, telling charity stories right now relies not just on a communications team spotting a ‘good story’ but on all staff working with service users to know what makes a story worthy moment and how to share it.

For us at TAP, now more than ever we know that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds need our support, so they don’t fall further behind in their education. Powerful storytelling doesn’t close the attainment gap between the most and least well-off young people, but it does serve as a tool to share why our work is so important. 

So how have we kept storytelling going during lockdown?

One of the most enjoyable, impactful and engaging storytelling highlights of the past few months was our ‘Life in Lockdown’ series where we asked students, alumni and staff to film short clips during the first few weeks as they adjusted to life at home.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago now during those first few weeks of lockdown, we all had to adapt and get used to the new normal pretty quick. For our students and alumni, this meant learning from home and for staff, this meant moving to work from home whilst still delivering our programme remotely. This is why sharing a video series about how everyone adapted seemed to be the most appropriate way of sharing stories and enabled us to put the power of storytelling into storytellers’ hands. 

After reaching out to individuals and asking if they’d be interested in recording a short video about how life in lockdown had been for them, those who wanted to take part were briefed on how to film a short video at home. As they were filming on mobile this included some tips on how they could get the best sound and video quality possible using what they had. Then once the footage was sent back to us it was then down to the communications team to compile the videos and edit them into a series that resonated with our target audience. Opting to share several shorter video clips from each group of participants as well as the longer video we were able to build videos that were tailored for each platform we would be sharing it on. Edits were made, subtitles and music added, and social media copy written, and we were campaign ready. 

Top tip: So many people are always so conscious about having to shoot videos without a professional kit, but sometimes the most authentic content is captured on a mobile phone – reassure them how powerful their videos can be.  

Sometimes you face challenges

Of course, any storytelling campaign, as we all know, isn’t without challenges. For example, for us Safeguarding our young people is of paramount importance. When asking our students to feature in any social media content we always have to keep this at the forefront of our minds and take steps to make sure they are aware what the content will be used for, where it will be shared and potential implications of this. This can mean sometimes having difficult conversations; however, we have to ask the questions. 

A second challenge when telling people’s personal stories is also the content collection itself. The TAP team are so used to operating with a dedicated TAP staff member delivering our in-school mentoring programme. However, now distanced from our young people we’re presented with the potential challenge of being able to gather the content in the first place. Overcoming this meant contacting our student ambassadors who act as representatives in their school for TAP, engage with our work and who we knew were keen to share their stories. What we found was that although the responses were lower than a usual campaign, many of our students were still keen to share their story.

One thing important to remember though is that once you have launched a campaign it’s important to take some time to reflect on the content, asking yourself what worked well. Measuring the impact of communications can always be a challenge but the highlights from this storytelling campaign were: 

  • A total of 12,451 Impressions on the five videos shared throughout the campaign on Twitter 
  • On average double the number of engagements per post 
  • 75 likes on the video posts across Twitter alone

Considering the size and following of our organisation the impact of this campaign was really positive. We reached new people on the platform, engaged staff during a challenging time and most importantly gave our young people a voice. From here we have been able to learn what worked well and continue to use video as a positive storytelling medium including a feature with Romesh Ranganathan. We are now learning how to tailor our storytelling to our audiences, find new opportunities and engage more people. 

2020 has brought with it some unprecedented challenges for charities and carrying on our work in this new normal has been different. If I was to share one takeaway from ‘Life in Lockdown’ I would say don’t be scared to do something differently, use the people around you and be honest with those you are telling the story to. At The Access Project we are continuing to learn and adapt all the time and have come to realise the new normal for storytelling will be remote but it will be raw and authentic. 

You may also like Storytelling lessons from a life of adventure and What charity communicators can learn from filmmakers: storytelling tips from behind the camera.


Image: Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Amy Pearson

senior communications officer, The Access Project

Amy Pearson is the senior communications officer at The Access Project (TAP) an innovative education charity that helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds fulfil their academic potential and access top universities. Through her experience in social media, website management and SEO, Amy works across the organisation to tell the stories of their young people, staff and volunteers.