Charities are doing what they do best during the Coronavirus pandemic

The voluntary sector is providing vital telephone contact during the pandemic

Historically charitable work provided for the poor and the needy before social welfare existed and many were associated with religious organisations. The third sector today is a different animal with the voluntary sector working alongside statutory services; influencing governments to make changes to the law; and working with academia and the private sector to tackle a host of society’s ills. They continue to provide a lifeline for many on the margins of society.

Now in the thick of the Coronavirus pandemic, charities are more needed than ever, providing vital signposting and support and to those who were already facing desperate poverty, ill-health, or loneliness.

On my doorstep colleagues at Derbyshire Voluntary Action (DVA) have reacted quickly by working with Community Chesterfield and others to create a Covid 19 Support Directory to help map the myriad services available across the public and charitable realm during the pandemic. The directory – like many others which have been produced at breakneck speed by the voluntary sector and others – shows how active charities and community groups are in the current circumstances.

And with incidents of abuse in the home soaring during lockdown, with at least 16 deaths in the UK due to domestic violence*, the value of the Elm Foundation, which supports people in North  Derbyshire affected by domestic abuse, has been brought into sharp relief. The charity has pulled out all the stops to launch its new telephone helpline and text service, funded by Derbyshire County Council, on April 1st, despite staff going off sick with coronavirus. In parallel, the charity has had to deal with an increased number of referrals for refuge support, working closely with the Council and other domestic abuse charities to find safe accommodation for those in desperate need. It is also working closely with the Police and Social Services to monitor and support those at risk.

CVSs too have demonstrated the vital role they play advising and supporting voluntary groups, especially during this challenging period. Credit is due to High Peak CVS, who has continued to provide support to their 300+ membership whilst simultaneously launching their new social prescribing project at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. With the consent of the funders, Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and in partnership with the Primary Care Network of GPs, the team of two quickly modified their plan of providing face to face delivery to instead back up the primary care provision across the High Peak. In the last few weeks, they have contacted hundreds of potentially vulnerable people that have been identified either through the local GP or have been referred through the Derbyshire County Council Community Response Unit (CRU) requesting support. This has varied from issues such as delays with benefits through to problems with anxiety due to the lockdown. The social prescribers have been diligently working through the list, providing a listening ear, and putting people in touch with other services and volunteers who can provide further help.

As well as being agile and rallying the troops (aka volunteers) to do what needs to be done, charities are also doing what they do best: collaborating and being innovative to meet their beneficiaries’ needs. One such example is Versus Arthritis, which has designed a condition specific chatbot for people with arthritis affected by coronavirus.

Charities are also repurposing their staff and resources to support those on the NHS frontline, for example wildlife rangers from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust delivering PPE to health organisations across their local area.

Given this monumental effort by the third sector, it is no surprise that the paltry relief package pledged by the government for charities has been met with disdain. The stalwarts at NVCO and ACEVO are doing a brilliant job fighting the corner for the sector, notably through their Every Day Counts campaign, and I would urge any charity to let NCVO know how Coronavirus is affecting their organisation to help them in this regard.

As charities forge on plugging gaps in service provision and working in partnership to meet unprecedented social need despite their loss of income (due to charity shop closures, cancellation of events and funding streams hanging in the balance) and having to furlough staff, it will be more important than ever for them to monitor the vital contribution they make during the pandemic. Keeping track of new models of delivery, partnerships, digital innovations, as well as recording case studies evidencing how they are alleviating the pressure on statutory services, will serve them well in the inevitable discussions that will follow about charities’ social and economic value, the essential role of civil society and justifying public funding to help them survive as the country embarks on its long road to recovery.

Useful links:

*Domestic abuse killings more than double amid Covid 19 lockdown, Guardian

The Elm Foundation – telephone helpline/ textline

Chesterfield Covid 19 Support Directory

High Peak CVS

Civil Society News – Versus Arthritis launches UKs first ever condition specific coronavirus chatbot

NCVO and ACEVO joint press release: Every Day Counts

NCVO Coronavirus case study form


Photo credit: by Akshar Dave on Unsplash


How storytelling can help promote your charity or social enterprise


I usually introduce myself as a storyteller at networking events. I’ve been helping charities and the public sector to tell their stories for more than twenty years. In this post I share with you some of what I’ve learnt honing my craft…

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all great stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But in PR, the best stories often end with a question, a ‘what next’ and crucially, a compelling call to action.

Of course, in novels the story can unfold over several hundred pages, as we get to know the key characters, their lives and the issues they face. For a PR storyteller, the trick is being able to describe the individuals in our story quickly (be they beneficiaries, or organisations that can change policy or hold the purse strings). We then need to convey the environment (the problem, the struggle, the prejudice…) and finally, describe how YOU, the reader, and the main protagonist can play a role.

Any good storyteller will capture their reader’s attention straight away – a punchy headline, killer statistic or compelling image can help with that. Your story should also resonate with your target audience. Whether you’re writing for a professional journal or the local press, then make sure your story strikes a chord with them. Local and regional news will want local case studies, or to know how you’re having an impact locally; a professional journal will want to understand what new intelligence or insights you’re bringing to the sector, or existing body of knowledge. Think about what’s going to cut the mustard with the editor – or for a quick and dirty guide just watch Press on catch up and you’ll get the gist!

I usually start by asking ‘So what? Why should people care? What’s the problem you ‘re trying to fix?’ The ability to shock or provide a wake up call, is another tactic used to garner traction – be that the melting of the ice caps or the shocking rise of poverty. Get researching all the evidence available and any data to back up your argument and present it in an easy to understand way – such as a year on year comparison or an infographic.

Humour is another great tactic you can employ in storytelling – listen to the Ken Robinson Ted talk ‘Do schools kill creativity’ and you’ll understand how this works… he tells funny stories, you laugh, you warm to him, these funny stories also illustrate important arguments – namely that the classroom isn’t always the best place for creative kids to flourish. This tactic is best suited to speeches and blogs where a more conversational style is acceptable and can also work in social media posts – typically Facebook, where followers are seeking out information and entertainment.

Finally, remember the power of images and film to pack an emotional punch or illustrate your story. The point is that it’s really worth the investment to get good photos to issue to the press or use on your website. So many clients simply don’t have the budget, or wont commission good photography, but really I do think it’s a worth developing a bank of images to use in your publicity. If budget is a problem, consider investing in a decent digital camera and sending one of your team on a photography course. Indeed, most smartphones take pretty decent images these days and with a bit of knowhow about how to set up a good shot, you’re half way there. Another option is to approach your local college to see if any of their students would like to get involved with your project. Many are happy for the opportunity to build up their portfolio.

Of course, if you want some help telling your charity’s story, I’m always happy to chat – and the coffee and cake is on me!

Kate Dawson of Well Read PR provides communications support to charities, social enterprises and public sector organisations. She is also editor of The Good Times e-zine, which shares the impact and learning from the third sector and other organisations working to bring about social change across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Bringing history to life to inspire future generations

It’s fair to say that I found history lessons at school a bit dull. Learning the dates of wars in far flung places just didn’t resonate with me in the same way the works of Shakespeare did, or indeed, excited me in the way that taking part in a protest march against the Poll Tax did (my Sociology teacher’s hands-on approach to teaching ‘collective action’).

Skip forward 25 years and I’ve been getting lost in history books, poring over old parchments in Nottingham Archives and getting excited over old maps. The reason for this new-found interest has been a wonderful opportunity to work on the King and Miller to Kingfisher project led by Ashfield District Council in north Nottinghamshire and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Pending second stage HLF funding the project, (which focuses on King’s Mill Reservoir, Hermitage Ponds and Sutton Pleasure Lawns), will attract visitors to a new heritage centre that will principally tell the story of the mills that once stood around the Reservoir and along the River Maun towards Mansfield.

The brief was to produce the content for a compelling and interactive visitor experience, as well as to create two initial education packs – working with Red Stone design agency – to help local teachers engage pupils with the industrial heritage of the site.

As an experienced communicator I knew that simply churning out facts and figures, would be a sure-fire way of turning people off – as it had me, many years before. What I needed to do was to bring to life the people at the centre of the historical narrative; provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the pivotal moments in history that have changed industry and society forever and above all make it fun!

Desk research into what makes a good visitor experience revealed a common thread: creating an emotional experience and allowing people to draw personal connections with what they see increased their satisfaction.¹ Increasingly, people also expect to be able to personalise their visit using APPs, audio guides, multi-media kiosks and podcasts².

The boundless enthusiasm of local heritage groups was infectious and invaluable in terms of mining for historical records, as well as learning about local folklore and traditions. A medieval play, The King and Miller of Mansfield; the gruesome beheading of local Luddite leader, Jeremiah Brandreth; and speculation about whether Hamilton Hill, an escarpment overlooking the site, was once a burial ground or a place for delivering speeches were all absolute gifts.

So, what is the vision for the heritage centre in Sutton-in-Ashfield? Well it’s certainly more than simply describing the historic mills. It’s about how the pioneers of the past heralded the beginning of the factory system and effectively, the introduction of a new working class; the importance of social justice and last, but not least, an insight into the Sutton spirit – combining a work ethic, integrity, a passion for sport and humour. We hope a visit to the site will get people thinking, make them feel good and hopefully, they’ll come back again.

With the architectural plans and interpretation for the site all prepared, we’re now waiting with bated breath for news that the project can be taken through to fruition.
To find out more about our research and interpretation services click Heritage research and interpretation or get in touch via email: or call 07866 762401


  1. SLAudienceResearch
  2. maa journal

Image courtesy of Wikipedia circa 1817. Jeremiah Brandreth (1790 – 7 November 1817) was an out-of-work stocking maker who lived in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire who was hanged for treason. He was known as “The Nottingham Captain”. He and two of his conspirators were the last people to be beheaded with an axe in Britain.

Long live the PR poppet

Over the years I’ve been referred to as somebody who can make documents ‘look pretty’; somebody who can ‘chat up’ journalists; and my all-time favourite: a ‘PR poppet’.

There’s a fraction of truth in all of these statements of course, although at 43, juggling my consultancy work with family responsibilities, it’s fair to say I’m probably more ‘PR haggard’ than ‘poppet’ (see footnote).  I never enjoyed any boozy lunches with journalists in my 20s and 30s… although I frequently worked late to meet deadlines and ensure all ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s crossed.

The sad fact is that misconceptions about PR – the poor cousin of marketing – remain, with some still believing that it is little more than faffing around with press releases and keeping bad news from the door with our witchlike charms.

More frustrating still is that some managers think it’s a skills which anyone can just pick up and so cost cutting exercises often see the PR resource reduced or amalgamated into another role, with the end result that great PR opportunities are missed or copy for websites and newsletters etc. lack consistent messaging or relevancy to readers.

Perhaps PR itself could do with… well, some good PR?

As PR practitioners it’s essential we bang the drum for our profession.

PR should not be an afterthought or a ‘nice to have’, but should be embedded in strategy, policies and staff training. It’s about listening and responding to stakeholders and ensuring that the values we espouse in our communications are embedded in the organisation’s actions and behaviours.

Skilled story-telling continues to be at the heart of the service we offer, but today the proliferation of the media means it’s all about creating great content which can be re-nosed for a variety of channels – be that a company blog, stakeholder newsletter or indeed, a press release.

Great newspaper coverage still goes a long way in helping to build the trust and consent which Henry Ford, one of the first exponents of PR, set out to achieve back in early 1900s America; but opinions about organisations are now formed 24/7 in the vast open talking shop we call ‘social media’.

Social Media campaigns can gather momentum like wildfire and communities are formed to champion a cause, challenge authority, as well as inciting fear and prejudice.

Having a two-way dialogue continues to be the basic premise of PR, but today it’s important we utilise all the communications channels available to truly protect and shape the brand of an organisation.

I now describe myself as being in the business of ‘reputation management’.  I help organisations to create compelling copy that resonates with or motivates their target audiences.

So, call me a ‘PR poppet’ if you will, but I can help you engage new audiences, gain credibility amongst your professional peers, start new conversations with thought-leaders and demonstrate your impact more effectively. Please do get in touch:


Footnote: Poppet: ˈpɒpɪt’ , noun

British, informal, an endearingly sweet or pretty child (often used as an affectionate form of address). “‘Here you are, poppet,’ the nurse said”

historical, a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft.


Image courtesy:


Where are the marketing skills gaps in the charity and voluntary sector in Derbyshire?

Are you working in the third sector in Derbyshire?

Do you need to impress grant-making bodies, or evidence the difference you make to commissioners? Are you struggling to build a community using social media? Do you need a better profile to support fundraising or to engage people with your cause?

We want to find out which communications skills the charity and voluntary sector in Derbyshire need most help with.

We want to hear your views so we can tailor a programme of FREE workshops and resources that will enable charities and other not-for-profits  improve their reach and impact through improved communications.

Our survey takes just 5-10 minutes and by completing the survey and entering your contact details you could be the winner of a free communications audit by Well Read that will help you understand where you could improve the way you talk to key audiences.

Complete the survey here

Many thanks, Kate Dawson

Top ten tips for writing a press release that cuts the mustard

Getting coverage in print and online helps to raise the profile of your organisation and builds trust in your brand and if you’re a charity, having an awareness of your cause can really boost your fundraising efforts.

The challenge is getting the attention of journalists who are looking for something that’s fresh and relevant to their readers.

So, to give you a head start, here are my top 10 tips for producing press releases that will get followed up:

  1. Journalists should be able to get the gist of the story in the opening paragraph – the ‘who, what, where, why, and when’. Critically, don’t forget to include key dates, such as the announcement of a research finding or an event, so the news outlet can publish the story before it becomes old news.
  2. Write in Plain English and avoid technical or scientific jargon, except when this is intrinsic to the story, in which case explain in layman’s terms. Ditto use of acronyms: don’t assume journalists will know what they stand for, so write in full the first time around.
  3. Try and link your story topical issue or event; for example how your organisation is responding to the impact of austerity measures, or a guide to successful project management inspired by the TV show, The Apprentice.
  4. Include a supporting quote from an independent authority, be that a service-user or expert in your field of business, in addition to your own spokesperson’s quote. This will add credibility and avoid it reading as PR ‘puffery’.
  5. Send your release to a named contact rather than you firing it off to everyone at the publication or website. Get to know your target publications and journalists, follow them on Twitter and find out which topics they’re interested in.
  6. A great picture tells a thousand words and can often make or break a PR pitch. If your promoting a prestigious event or if there are particular conditions on photo usage, (for example the photographer needs a fee for any front cover usage) it’s a good idea to set up an online photo gallery and ask journalists to request the large files.
  7. Ensure that your company/charity spokesperson is available for interview 24 hours following distribution of the release and that a back-up is available. Nothing annoys journalists more than a story which they can’t get their own unique angle on, or fresh quotes for.
  8. Keep it succinct. Use Notes to Editors to provide essential information about your mission, turnover etc and attach case studies separately if necessary – this is especially useful if you’re pitching to broadsheets and consumer press.
  9. Find out when the publications goes to print and avoid issuing releases at their busiest time. Keep follow up calls for those journalists you know are happy to chat. If you are given short shrift by a journalist or editor – keep a note and don’t do it again.
  10. Remember to thank journalists if they do run with your press release / story. A little thank-you email, tweet or even a hand written card for something really special will go a long way to nurturing you future relationship. Journalists are only human after-all!

For help telling your story in the media why not drop me a line to arrange a chat?

Tone of voice – and how to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum

As marketeers and PR professionals, understanding how our words make people feel and their likely response is at the crux of what we do. Indeed, any organisation wanting to up their game in their particular marketplace needs to spend time establishing their tone of voice before embarking on developing their marketing content.

Combined with your visual identity, actions and behaviour, tone of voice is an essential, but often overlooked element, of brand identity. So where to start? Well it’s worth considering your brand personality and how you want to be perceived by your target audiences – if you’re selling urban clothing to the under 25s it’s worth involving young people in defining your brand and gaining some real intelligence into youth trends and parlance, to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum trying to ‘get down with the kids’.

Clarity about whether your target audience sits within your business or professional field; is an expert consumer (with good knowledge of your industry); or a general member of the public with little knowledge of your product or services is important before you get started. If you’re an online education business for example, you may need to adopt a different tone of voice for teachers and education partner, to parents and individuals purchasing your products directly. Educators will want to know about your pedagogical credentials, whereas parents may be turned off by technical language and simply want to know in Plain English how purchasing your resources will help their child do better at school.

Once you’ve established your tone of voice you need to ensure that there’s some consistency across all of your communications channels. Nothing will turn a potential customer off more than seeing an enticing advert in the press, or a great product description on an affiliate website, if your own website doesn’t cut the mustard –  it’s too turgid, technical or simply doesn’t reflect the brand promise. (Of course, tone of voice is only one aspect of having a great website: it also needs to be user-friendly, provide your consumer /service user with the information they are looking for and make it as easy as possible for people to make a purchase or contact you. Once for another blog-post.)

I have helped a charity establish more consistent messaging and tone of voice in order to build their brand and ultimately, to help them attract more funding and donations.  A survey of their supporters and members, combined with a review of their competition, revealed that although they came across as being compassionate and well-established, they weren’t perceived as being particularly professional and people weren’t aware of their incredible expertise and the impact they were making. The creation of key messages and a more authoritative tone of voice has enabled them to present themselves not only as an organisation dedicated to their cause, but also with much greater conviction about the difference their work makes – essential, to build credibility and motivate potential supporters to give.

Ensuring your tone of voice sits comfortably and authentically with front-line staff is another common pitfall. I recently advised a very wealthy family run-business operating in the country leisure and sustainable fuels industry. An honest discussion about their brand messaging and tone of voice resulted in them agreeing to tone down some of their flamboyant language and to instead focus on the trace-ability of their products and pride in the region. We also discussed involving staff in drilling down on the values of the organisations and how that translates to their particular enterprises.

Their values and tone of voice are now actually being spoken, rather than sitting within a written document, which means they are much more authentic and believeable to target customers.

If you’d like a chat about how I can help you create a brand that really resonates with your customers or target audiences, why not drop me a line? Email me at

Photo credit: CREATISTA

New Year’s Resolution – don’t work all the time…

A New Year, a fresh start and a list of resolutions …but go on, admit it, have you already succumbed to the biscuit tin (don’t worry your dentist isn’t actually watching you!)?

We all start the New Year pledging to shave an inch off our midriff, start reading some improving books, or perhaps be more mindful. The problem with New Year resolutions is that if we don’t see or feel the benefits quickly, we give up and quickly return to our former bad habits.

And so it is with our work-based aspirations. For me, having some strong resolutions and sticking to them throughout 2017, is essential if I’m really going to gain some momentum with my business growth.

So armed with self-knowledge and a determination to gain some traction with Well Read in 2017, here are my work-based resolutions for 2017…they might just work for you too:

  1. Write a weekly blog – on anything. Being in the social-media sphere without anything original to say is a bit like going to a party and having nothing interesting to talk about. Be inspired by current affairs, reputation management issues and digital media. Don’t worry so much about it being too heavily referenced, clever or witty, but draw upon experience and insight gained over the years – don’t hide your light under a bushel.
  2. Do more face-to-face networking. With the world at your fingertips it’s easy to fall into the trap of scouring the internet for opportunities and treating social media marketing as the ‘be all and end all’. Events and local business fora not only provide great opportunities to dish out the business cards, but also helps you to keep abreast of funding opportunities and local issues.
  3. Ensure you capture great feedback and testimonials. There’s nothing like a strong independent endorsement to give your business credibility. There’s a window of opportunity for asking clients to write nice things about you, while the benefits of what you have done for them is fresh in their minds. Giving people an idea of what you’re looking for can really help, as can giving them a deadline, offering to include a link from your website to theirs, and offering to write a testimonial for them, perhaps on Linked in, by return.
  4. Have a positive attitude and plan for success. Imagine everything that is possible for your business and have the focus and discipline to put in place short, medium and long-terms goals, rather than simply drift along. With a strong brand and website, a growing network of contacts and some of the practical processes in place (I weirdly enjoy the HMRC self-assessment webinars), the world really is my oyster in 2017.
  5. Last but not least – don’t work all the time. The advantage of an overactive brain is that meditative activities like sewing, walking the dog or even, tackling a messy child’s bedroom, enable creative ideas to flow and solutions to problems rise to the surface much more readily than when staring at a blank screen. In any case, remember that you’re freelance for a reason, so you’re not going to get sacked if you take a couple of hours out to do something else and come back to your desk feeling refreshed and enthusiastic.

Okay, so I might not get thinner thighs as a result of doing all the above, but hopefully, I might just reap the business dividends in 2017.

I’d love to hear your work-based resolutions. Please write in the comments box below. Oh, and invite me to any events you think I might be interested in – I really need to get out more! You can contact me via email:

Do you know which media your target audience consumes?

Whether it’s reading the BBC news headline through blurry eyes on waking, listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme during the drive into the office, or checking Twitter at lunchtime, there are a myriad of ways we keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world and how our consumer choices are influenced.

We simply can’t ignore the fact that adults spend an average of 21.6 hours online each week.

Check out Ofcom’s latest report on media usage for some more eye-watering stats.

In today’s world of 24 hour online news and the advent of social media, we might hear about a breaking news story via social media well before it’s published in the traditional media. And in any case newspaper journalism has evolved, with their online version invariably going live before any print copy hits the news-stands.

That’s why understanding how our customers and service users consume media is vital to ensure that your communications resources are being used effectively. There’s little point getting coverage in your local newspaper each week if you’re allowing your competitors to steal a march on you by securing product reviews and promoting their discounts online – although a combination of press coverage and digital marketing is highly effective.

Lifestyle data, such as Acorn, can provide you with invaluable information about your target audiences, if you have a defined geographical area for your business. If you can’t afford this level of market intelligence, you can find out more about your customers’ / service users’ media usage by asking them to complete a short form in order to receive a discount offer, sign up for your newsletter / blog, or register for an event.

You could also invite some of your stakeholders (I hate this term, but you might equally be trying to reach new members, or get people to give their views on a new development, not just sell a product) to attend a focus group or complete a telephone survey, to find out more about their media behaviour and habits.

But it’s not rocket science – you’ve probably got a good sense of the types of media that influence your target audience without going to great expense. Have a brain storm, ask colleagues – you’ll be surprised how productive an hour with a white board can be. Take a look at the following for inspiration:

Bob, 55 years, listens to his local commercial radio station at work as a builder. He casts his eye over the local rag during his tea-break. He owns a smartphone but only uses a few Apps – mainly to keep abreast of the football results and have an occasional bet. He recently joined Facebook mainly to share pictures of his fishing ‘catches’. Other than booking flights and holidays, he makes very few online purchases.

Cathy, 25 years, picks up a Metro newspaper at the train station. She scans Twitter on the journey to work – she follows thought-leaders in the fashion and retail industry. She has the latest iphone and takes advantage of offers and discount by her favourite brands. She uses WhatsApp and Snapchat to keep in touch with friends.  She enjoys podcasts and media streaming websites.

Brian, 45 years, is a professional who uses Twitter to network professionally and keep up with news and commentary in his sector. He uses consumer websites such as He tends to watch the news at 10pm.

So, by painting a picture of who you’re targeting you can see how your PR strategy might begin to take shape; and getting to know your target audience’s media consumption and behaviour can really help you to up your game.

Here at Well Read PR we don’t churn out a one-sized all approach for our clients, instead we get to know you and your audiences to create a bespoke PR strategy that will ensure press releases convert to pounds.

You can follow us on twitter (@katewellreadpr) or facebook. We also like to meet people face to face – and the first coffee is always on us!

pic: istock, javi_indy

Let us help you tell your story

Whether it’s recruiting volunteers, selling tickets for a fundraising event, or simply getting people to engage with your cause, we can help you give your story legs.

We’re offering up to ten charities or not-for profits in Derbyshire or South Yorkshire the chance to tap into our PR skills at a discounted rate.

For just £25 you can commission a press release or blog that will help you reach donors, connect with new partners or simply start a conversation that needs to happen. We will work with you to deliver the press release or blog by the end of January 2017

Simply email us at with an outline of the story you want telling and we will discuss with you how we would go about tailoring your story to gain media coverage, or how we would go about creating a compelling blog post.

This offer closes on midnight 1st December 2016. Up to ten charities will be selected on a first come, first served basis. Price excludes cost of press release distribution.