Case Study: Thames Reach - A persistent campaign that worked

We examine the homelessness charity's long-running campaign for action against super-strength lager and communications expert Chris Catchpole reviews it.

Thames Reach campaign
Thames Reach campaign

It takes determination to keep a campaign going for more than five years. But the perseverance of the London homelessness charity Thames Reach in seeking action over super-strength lager is paying off.

In November, the government announced that tax on beer and lager with an alcohol content of more than 7.5 per cent would rise in 2011. This will be in addition to minimum prices for alcohol, announced last week

Last year, Thames Reach helped 8,908 people who were either homeless or in danger of becoming so. About 40 per cent had problems with alcohol: the majority of these were linked to super-strength lagers and ciders. The charity attributes the deaths of 50 people it has worked with in the past three years to such drinks.

Its campaign, which Thames Reach's communications manager Mike Nicholas says was by necessity "done on a shoestring", was launched in October 2005 after it employed Imagination, a communications company, to create a new poster-magazine.

The magazine unfolded into a larger-than-A3 poster, with news on one side. The poster side had an image of a gun, representing a game of Russian roulette. The slogan, "one can is all it takes", highlighted the fact that a can of a super-strength lager contains 4.5 units of alcohol, above the government's recommended daily intake.

Another poster-magazine, launched by Imagination in 2007 with the slogan "it doesn't take long for life on the streets to take its toll", showed how super-strength lager can cause homeless people to develop devastating mental and physical illnesses associated with much older people.

The issue was also highlighted on various social media sites. The main thrust of the campaign, however, was to lobby MPs and secure media coverage. Martin Linton, the former Labour MP for Battersea in south London, tabled an early day motion in parliament for Thames Reach in 2008, which attracted more than 50 signatures.

The charity also offered BBC television programmes, national newspapers and magazines, such as The Big Issue, the opportunity to film and talk to people who use its services and whose health has been damaged by the drinks.

EXPERT VIEW - Chris Catchpole, Freelance creative director

Chris Catchpole, freelance creative directorYou can't fail to be impressed by the excellent work and campaigning that Thames Reach does for homeless people. The charity gets great PR coverage on TV, in national newspapers and, importantly, The Big Issue - putting the message in the hands of those most vulnerable. But they are let down by this poster work.

I presume the proposition for the first poster was "super-strength lager kills people". First thought: show a gun. For the second poster it was "you age quickly living on the streets". First thought: show the same bloke looking older, but in rough-looking black and white. To see how this sort of thing should be done, look at the brilliant campaigns by Shelter and St Mungo's.

I've worked on shoestring budgets for charities, so I know Year 7-level work when I see it. Thames Reach, you deserve better - but keep up the good work.

Creativity: 1
Delivery: 1
Total: 2 out of 10

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