This week Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with people raising mugs in #solidaritea with Helen in The Archers. The court room climax of the domestic abuse storyline has gripped listeners of the soap and captured the nation’s imagination.

The storyline, which has been building over many months, has revealed the psychological grip of emotional abuse, as Helen struggled under Rob’s increasing controlling behaviour. The storyline was devised in association with domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid and shines a light on the issues faced by many people experiencing domestic abuse. The slow build up has helped shake off many common assumptions and judgements made about people experiencing domestic abuse, as listeners were able to put themselves in Helen’s shoes.

What’s remarkable is how this increased understanding has manifested itself on social media, breaking down the taboos around domestic abuse. By taking a quick selfie with a cuppa on social media and using the hashtag #solidaritea, you are joining an army of Helen supporters and reaching out in support of women like Helen in real life.

It’s not just raising awareness via social media either. An avid listener launched a JustGiving campaign in February 2016 in support of Refuge, a charity helping real-life Helens, which has so-far raised £169,000 and still counting. It’s a powerful message. Unlocking empathy via a radio drama has prompted a huge surge in awareness and support for domestic abuse charities.

But is this #FreeHelen viral campaign a one-off? Are there lessons here that charities can learn and apply to their cause? Awareness around ‘issues’ have been raised in dramas and soaps before, such as AIDS awareness, addiction etc, but these haven’t been harnessed effectively with a social media and fundraising campaigns. The slow-burn of the Helen storyline certainly helped awareness and fundraising to build up organically.

So what can smaller charities do?

  • It’s worth keeping tabs on storylines developed in TV and radio drama –  viewers and listeners are building up an understanding or emotional connection to the character and issue involved, so make the most of that opportunity.
  • Create links between the storyline and and your work to bring your work to life.
  • Seek additional PR to work alongside the developing storyline to raise awareness of your cause..
  • Soaps such as Hollyoaks, EastEnders and Coronation Street often provide information on who to contact if you are affected by the issues at the end of their programmes. What’s stopping you promoting your work via social media/press in a similar way? Schedule social media activity around transmission to make the most impact.
  • Also, consider how these soap storylines might be useful in opening up difficult conversations during ‘on the ground’ sessions in your work. Some charities use these storylines to introduce themes in sessions and to explore characters without actually relating directly to any of the people in the group. This enables people to talk about difficult issues in the third person.