Posted on 23rd October 2020

Reporting from Soap Storytelling Summit 2020!

With just 10 years to save the planet, TV has a crucial role to play. Continuing drama, with a proud and longstanding
history of tackling social issues, has a greater opportunity still.

On Thursday the 22nd of October, we chaired the Soap Storytelling Summit 2020, hosted by Roser-Canela Mas (Industry Sustainability Manager at albert) and a selection of speakers from the world of climate change awareness. In attendance were producers, script editors, researchers, writers, story liners, and execs EastEnders, Corrie, Doctors, Casualty, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Holby City.

Read on to see what our speakers had to say…

Miatta Fahnbulla

Miatta is Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation. She has a wealth of experience in developing and delivering policy to empower communities and change people’s lives. She has been at the forefront of generating new ideas on reshaping our economy inside government and out.

There is a mood in the country that we need to “build back better”, a term that usually belonged in the activist space but is now even being used by our prime minister. The pandemic is making the government tear up the rulebook and now consider ideas that were deemed too risky or too radical in the past. We’re not only at a moment where there is a desire for appetite and change, but also for the radical sorts of things we need to do to effect that change, such as the ideas laid out in the Green New Deal. If we can implement these changes, we can radically transform our economy so it works for people and works for the planet. 

But this cannot happen unless the movement continues to grow and continues to apply pressure for radical change, bridging divides from left to right and from old to young. This is where there is a powerful role to play for storytellers – in order to allow people to believe that an alternative is possible, to paint pictures of what that alternative looks like so that people are inspired, engaged and galvanised to demand more and to demand better, forcing our politicians to confront the scale of the challenge before us and act before it’s too late.”

Tom Richardson

Tom Richardson, Head of Marketing at the Sustainable Restaurant Association & Patchwork Farmer for Growing Communities.

Tom works at the Sustainable Restaurant Association, promoting sustainability with restaurants, pubs and cafes as well as encouraging diners to use the power of their appetite by making more sustainable choices when eating out.

“Scientists estimate we only have 60 years of farming left if we carry on with our destructive farming practices. However, there is some good news – fixing the food system is the closest thing we have to a sustainability panacea, and a big step towards solving climate change. 

The question for storytelling is what we can do at an individual level as citizens. We all can make a difference. Three times a day we all have the chance to vote, every time we eat we have the chance to vote for better food systems.

The four areas or themes to focus on are; reducing food waste, avoiding meat and dairy, buying local food and growing your own. Interestingly, these four methods of solving the food system issue were the exact methods used to solve the food crisis in WW2, and we had reached a point where almost 20% of the UK’s food was grown in gardens and allotments – at the moment it’s about 3%. 

Food is the universal connection which everyone on the planet has to our environment, and understanding our reliance on the world around us, starts with the food on our plate.”

Zoe Anderson

Zoe Anderson is Knowledge and Learning Manager at The National Lottery Community Fund, lead writer Community action for the environment: Small enough to care, big enough to make a difference

“So much work on sustainability has vital co-benefits for communities. We know that green spaces are good for us and addressing food and fuel poverty also tends to mean more sustainable living. Local growing can help wellbeing and bring communities together. We are also interested in togetherness on a national scale, which you can affect with your audiences.

Behaviour change comes one step at a time. It’s really important to connect climate change to people’s daily lives, to their jobs, to their fuel bills, to where their children play – what matters to them on an everyday level. That means if you want to change behaviour, make it specific and make it really relevant.

It’s also vital to connect to values, as financial incentive is only effective as long as the money lasts. We are looking for behaviour spillover, where one environmental change that you achieve, then makes you think of others.

It’s also about harnessing the desire to connect. Neighbourliness is powerful. A street community sharing tips and advice with each other on how to be more green, may well convert those who would have otherwise run away from such topics, through connection and conversation. 

Visible difference is also hugely motivating. Make it visible and make it concrete and tangible.”

Zamzam Ibrahim

Zamzam Ibrahim, a co-founder of Students Organising for Sustainability, Vice Chair Muslim Leadership foundation and the former National President & Vice President of the National Union of Students. She’s led work on tackling societal injustices, leading campaigns from; climate justice, tackling racial injustice to abolishing the Prevent Duty.

“The way in which I saw sustainability, climate change and environmental work framed was always in a Eurocentric way and as a middle class issue. This led to how I, and how many young people had felt about climate change, with the attitude of “I don’t care”. 

The issues I was facing growing up directly were more important and more relevant to me, such as racism and Islamophobia, these were more immediate concerns to me. The way we talk about the environment, climate change and climate justice, fails to recognise how interlinked all these issues are. When we talk about solving them, they are rooted in economical and societal issues.

When Black Lives Matter demonstrated at London City Airport in 2016, it was the first time I made the direct link between racism and discrimination and how it links to the climate issue. The action began in protest to an extension to LCY, which is in Newham, one of London’s poorest boroughs. The average person using LCY was earning approximately 90-100k and so the airport was not there for the benefit of the people who lived in the local area but was also negatively affecting their lives through air and noise pollution. This is just one of many examples. 

There is a point right now of hope, and young people are mobilising unapologetically and are unafraid to directly challenge where power lies. The assumption of what a climate activist looks like has now changed, and young people have more power to organise than ever and are also more aware about how intersectional the work that needs to happen is. This is what needs to be reflected in the storytelling of the soaps that we watch. For me, the one hour in a day where I switch off and watch Eastenders, I live in that world and experience the issues the characters experience, and those issues become normalised for me because I’m so invested in those characters. Writers hold an incredible power because they can literally write a narrative and story that will subconsciously influence and start discussions. That’s how you influence change, and mobilise a generation of people.”