Adeela Warley: A powerful film reminds us of the difference that inspiring communications can make

A new community-led documentary has driven policy change, shifted power, and created opportunities to grow and flourish

All sectors have buzzwords and charities are no exception.

Careful use adds meaning, but the overuse of terms like “lived experience” and “speaking truth to power” can become vacuous. 

But when The Elephants Trail film popped into my Twitter feed, it put truth and meaning back into both of those.

The half-hour documentary was filmed in Bury and Rochdale by community reporters and residents who were trained to use mobile phone cameras and plucked up the courage to talk to people on the streets and in community centres about topics that are, all too often, the “elephants in the room”. 

The experiences of prison, addiction, poor mental health, and homelessness  captured are painful, but the film is about hope and community action.

The makers used their new journalism skills to share their own struggles and shed light on the reality of people’s lives. 

As one of the reporters says: “We can give people in authority the one thing they’ve not got – they’ve never actually walked the walk.” 

Supported by a progressive funder in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and with the reach of the Guardian online, the project has resonated far beyond local streets. But the most important change is the transformation for the community and the lives of the reporters. 

The project put them in front of decision makers and led to practical policy change, shifted power and created opportunities to grow and flourish instead of always falling between the cracks.

It’s a testament to the difference that inspiring, thoughtful communications can make, beautifully captured at the end of the film: “We all have the power within us to say, this is not how the story ends.”

Adeela Warley is the chief executive of CharityComms 

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