Arlesey Remembers You – what can happen in a year after you crowdfund?

Jodie Chillery, a TV producer created and ran the Arlesey Remembers You Crowdfunder campaign which captured the hearts and minds of the community. Jodie reflects on the year since they successfully funded over £2k for a documentary and the journey their crowdfunding campaign took them on. 

jodie JimJust over a year ago I got involved with a group in my community who intended to run a commemorative project for the centenary of the beginning of the first world war.

The plan was to invite members of the community to place a bespoke poppy cross on the grave of all of the fallen soldiers listed on our village war memorial. The graves spanned from the village church yard to France, Belgium, Turkey, Israel and Iraq.

It sounded like an ambitious plan and one I felt should be documented in a short film so all of the community could at least watch the film but moreover the project would have a legacy and generations of the future could see how the centenary was commemorated in the village.

By day I’m a professional television producer so I have an idea of how to produce a film, but normally I have a budget, camera operatives, editors and a broadcaster. All I had was a stills camera and an idea.

I guess in short what I needed was money. Not lots, but enough to be able to hire some equipment and cover some travel expenses. I did some research, rather hastily made a short “appeal film” with some of the group, and decided crowdfunding was the way to go. What I hadn’t imagined was that the project and the idea of making a film about the project would strike a chord with an otherwise dysfunctional and apathetic community.

Immediately the appetite and in fact the need for such a community project became obvious. I started to advertise my Crowdfunder page. We have a lively and active Facebook page for our village and this was the first port of call for the Crowdfunder link. It did the rounds and not only did people start donating but they also starting volunteering for the project. Our Crowdfunder was already serving two purposes and we’d only been live for a day!

I then contacted local press and used the community newswire, a service that helps charities, communities and citizen journalists get their stories into the national and regional media run by the Media Trust and Press Association. The next thing we knew a local news TV crew were knocking on the door as were a national WW1 commemoration organisation.

Over the weekend we’d been on local TV, featured in a local paper and raised over half of our target and there was still more to come. It paid to make the most of our personal contacts too, some of the biggest donations came from local business, a couple of companies I’d previously worked for, a man in a pub, and an old university lecturer.

But it seemed that not only had the project captured the imagination of the locals who were by now volunteering in their hundreds to place crosses, carrying out further fund raising activities and help research the local history. We had also secured donations of skills and equipment from organisations that we had personal relationships with. One of the villagers who was studying at the University of Westminster found he had a lecturer volunteering to offer some editing lessons to me, an old colleague of mine who’d I’d not seen in some years loaned a camera and tripod for the duration of the project and numerous colleagues who are far more technically minded than I were sending me emails offering their time I should need it. But of course the important thing is, none of this would happen if we didn’t hit the our crowdfunding target. So relentless facebooking, tweeting and emailing everyone we possibly knew between us continued until finally we did it!

What happened over the next 12 months is somewhat remarkable.

I struggle to believe it’s success. The local school dedicated two days to decorating the crosses. The Church, parish council and local British Legion put on a fabulous launch ceremony for the project. The 87 graves were visited by residents of the village, the scouts, the rainbows, a local choir and where possible descendants of the soldiers. We located and in some case reunited relatives of the soldiers and discovered that one soldier on the memorial probably didn’t actually die during the war.

Instead of a short five minute film being a produced as initially intended a 40 minute documentary was made with the money raised on Crowdfunder. It was broadcast on the Community Channel and over 400 people attended a premier style screening of the film at the village hall. The project had a full page featured in The Telegraph on Remembrance day and I was invited to speak about our project at the launch of the national volunteering initiative Remember WW1, where I spoke along side Andy Burham MP and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and a clip of the film was shown.

The project goes on with further funds raised to erect a headstone for one of the soldier’s featured in the film who rests in an unmarked grave in the churchyard and a memorial copse is being planted in the village this spring.

I’m a great believer that Crowdfunder not only enabled us to raise the money to make the film, but it gave us the ability to promote and market the project itself to engage volunteers, which in the long run is what made it so successful.


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