Tristan Blythe: The power of stories

01 Feb 2024 Voices

An open book with silver stars coming out of the pages

By tomertu / Adobe

We may only be at the start of 2024, but the new year has already delivered a compelling reminder of the importance and power of stories.

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office brought the real-life stories of the many subpostmasters that were wrongly convicted of crimes due to faults in the then newly installed Horizon computing systems into the public consciousness in a way that they had never been before.

As a result, the scandal quickly became a hot topic on social media, in workplace and family conversations, on the front pages of newspapers and in the Houses of Parliament. Finally, the government announced a new law to overturn all the convictions.

Of course, this was not a new story – the failings of the system and the miscarriage of justice were already established facts and had been covered on TV before, including as the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary in 2022. Indeed, the campaign for justice had existed for many years prior and had secured a victory in the Court of Appeal in 2021 when, in a group action, many convictions were overturned. An independent public inquiry, which is still ongoing, was established in September 2020.

Yet, it was the increased public awareness and anger at the treatment of innocent workers that the drama caused that led to the government taking action, despite numerous MPs raising the issue in parliament in preceding years.

More cynical readers may wonder why it took a TV drama to spur government action in a clear-cut case, and whether an imminent general election was a factor.

Regardless, the drama sparked something among the public too and the fury at the injustice was tangible. It brought the scandal to life and potentially was the first time that some people realised the scale and impact of the issue.

Human beings are creatures of stories. It is how we understand the world and our lives, and how we communicate with others.

While a TV dramatisation will not be the right vehicle for every story, it shows that charities need to be compelling storytellers if they want to be heard by the public, funders, government and other key stakeholders. Stories can bring to life the good work, impact and good financial governance of a charity.

This is especially true in the difficult economic times we still find ourselves in (I am writing this on the day a small but unexpected increase in inflation to 4% was announced).

Let us hope that when we get to the end of 2024, the story told about the economy will be a better one than in recent years.

Tristan Blythe is the editor of Charity Finance  

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