Monthly Archives: December 2013

BANNING NEGATIVE IMAGES OF AGEING: TIME TO BURST THE COMMS BUBBLE?

Lynne Berry’s piece for the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network this morning makes for interesting reading.

Berry, former chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service and now chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, is calling for a ban on the use of negative images of ageing.  She is challenging charities to lead society through innovation and change.

Adapting and developing services to meet the needs of our ageing population is imperative and has been on voluntary and public sector agendas for several years. Less has been said about changing society’s perceptions and attitudes.

We agree with Berry that the portrayal of older people, in images and words, needs to change to reflect their enormous contribution to society. This is a challenge for communications professionals throughout the sector. Not just those whose organisations represent or serve older people (though of course they should ensure the picture they paint is accurate). But also those who target older people as supporters of their various causes.

Too many times we have seen young comms teams work up two-dimensional donor profiles that amount to nothing more sophisticated than ‘little old ladies who potter about being worthy’. They exist. But so do the 75-year old long-distance walkers, who are learning French, travelling around India and still running their family business (and picking up their grandchildren from school when they have a spare moment).

No communications campaign can engage audience groups that aren’t properly understood. It is never enough for comms planners to base a strategy on convenient assumptions and false stereotypes. Or – worse still – to run with ideas because they themselves like them.

The solution is really quite simple. Comms professionals need to be part of the real world, mixing with – and getting to know – all types of people. If you live and work in a bubble, your comms will be contained within it.

THE PERILS OF A SINGLE STORY

We spent an amazing day last week filming at YMCA Crewe with staff and young people working within the ‘foyer’ model – an approach that combines housing, support and training to help young people make a successful transition to independent adulthood.

We were there with our film partners Mediashypp to capture stories that show the impact of this approach, and the innovation, commitment and positivity that makes it all happen.

The session was a strong reminder of the power of the most simple form of communication: storytelling. And it also highlighted the perils associated with our reliance on the single-sided stories we are so often told by the news media, which rely on, and perpetuate, stereotypes and caricatures, particularly when it comes to the depiction of young people.

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie covers this particularly well in her excellent TED Talk (we, like many, cannot get enough of TED!). She tells of the narrow, one-dimensional view of ‘people from Africa’ that dictated her first encounter with her new college flatmate in America. The prejudices and preconceptions she has dealt with, and in most cases quickly dissolved, by simply opening her mouth and sharing her beloved Mariah Carey album, are parallel to the experiences young people have to face every day, fighting as they are against a tide of newspaper articles on gang culture, youth disengagement, and ‘scroungers’.

Yes, many of the young storytellers we’re working with as part of our project for the Foyer Federation have faced difficult times. They have struggled to find their path in life, and have had to deal with anger and anxiety. But they are much more than this. And, because of the work done at projects like YMCA Crewe, these individuals have powerful, multifaceted stories to share, with positive outcomes. There is a responsibility on us all to make sure those stories are shared, and that young people are seen as just that – not labels, but individuals with ideas, ambitions, contradictions, frustrations and, crucially, potential .