Giving a voice to the people

Staff and children at Red Marsh School, Thornton, with their new minibus bought with the generosity of Gazette readers.

Staff and children at Red Marsh School, Thornton, with their new minibus bought with the generosity of Gazette readers.

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WHEN a charity buckling under financial strain needs help, a community is rocked by a tragedy or a pressure group calls for big changes to the community, many people turn to their local newspaper.

It’s their first port of call to celebrate, commiserate or fight for what’s right.

Giving a voice to the people is at the heart of The Gazette. And there’s no better time to celebrate the power of the press than this week – the 14th annual Local Newspaper Week – which marks the unique role played by local journalism in communities.

This year, the week aims to highlight how local newspapers act as a champion of their communities – a duty The Gazette prides itself on.

Take the latest appeal for Tiggers – a local charity which provides a vital lifeline to autistic children and their parents.

When The Gazette heard about how Government cuts devastated their dreams of modernising their premises, no time was lost in launching a community campaign asking our readers for help.

Bouncing High For Autism aims to help the charity raise £40,000 for a major refurbishment of their HQ on St Annes Road and The Gazette has already drummed up plenty of support for a massive four-hour fundraising bounce-a-thon in June.

Sheila Cullinane, project co-ordinator of Tiggers, said: “We really appreciate the work The Gazette is doing to help us. I think having a community base is a really good thing and should be pro-actively preserved.

“The Gazette has highlighted Blackpool Tiggers for us so people are aware we exist.

“The appeal is going really well – we just need teams of people for the bounce-a-thon to get sponsorship.”

A community campaign which has already seen massive success is William’s Wish – a small appeal to raise £2,500 for a new safety bed for disabled William O’Brien which exploded into a massive mission to help his whole school.

It seemed an impossible task to raise £34,000 to help Red Marsh School replace their unsuitable school bus.

But The Gazette’s readers made their dream come true and the 17-seater Fiat Ducato, which was adapted to take up to five wheelchairs, arrived in March.

Catherine Dellow, headteacher at the school on Holly Road, Thornton, said: “We are so grateful to The Gazette, who instigated the campaign, and its readers, who worked so hard to fundraise for us.”

Throwing a lifeline to vulnerable members of the community is a key part of a local newspaper’s duty. This was no more apparent than when The Gazette took on health bosses’ decision not to fund a pioneering heart treatment.

The lives of dozens of people were left hanging in the balance after the North West Specialised Commissioning Group (NWSCG) decided not to fund TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve implantation).

Desperate readers turned to the paper to campaign on their behalf for the £25,000 procedure, which corrects narrowing of the aortic heart valve.

The Gazette led the fight with the support of local MPs. Months later the pressure finally paid off and the NWSCG made a U-turn.

Shirley Banks, whose 85-year-old grandfather John Luczynski, from South Shore, was initially denied the treatment and came to The Gazette for help.

She said: “He had the TAVI around five weeks ago and he’s doing really well. The doctors are really pleased.

“The procedure is now routinely commissioned which means it’ll help everyone in the future who needs it.

“It’s from The Gazette that everyone got behind the appeal and supported it.”

Fighting to protect people’s health and safety in the community is at the heart of local journalism.

Fears for children’s safety playing in derelict buildings at the Fylde Farm site prompted concerned residents to contact The Gazette demanding action from the owners North West Young People’s Development Trust.

Talks are now under way for the demolition of the dilapidated buildings.

The Enough Is Enough campaign – which demanded the speed limit on the Fylde coast’s deadliest road be slashed – is also a clear example of a community newspaper at its campaigning best.

Eight deaths on the A584 Freckleton bypass in 10 years – and road bosses at Lancashire County Council still failed to take heed of public warnings that a speed limit of 70mph was contributing to local people needlessly losing their lives.

The pressure was kept up by The Gazette over five years until County Hall finally announced a pledge to cut the speed limit.

It isn’t just in the face of tragedy a local newspaper can unite people for the greater good.

Blackpool FC fans have been shouting, screaming and singing their way through the season, as Premier League grounds up and down the country have been transformed into a sea of tangerine.

And The Gazette’s campaign, Shout up for Seasiders, has seen a groundswell of fans roaring the players on as they bid to keep the Seasiders in the top flight.

This year also saw the launch of The Gazette’s Best of Health Awards which recognises the dedication and commitment by the Fylde coast’s unsung health heroes.

The eight winners were featured in The Gazette, showing the community’s hard work and support doesn’t go un-noticed.