Good voice for radio

On Sunday 13 October 2002 at 7.55am the BBC Radio 4 announcer
introduced the actress Prunella Scales. “Emma is 19 years old,”
began Scales. “She has been raped by a member of staff at a centre
she attends. The police believe her. The Crown Prosecution Service
believes her. Everyone believes her. There’s even medical evidence
to confirm her story. But, incredibly, no action is taken.”

Scales, who volunteered her time, was highlighting Emma’s story for
an appeal on behalf of the Derby-based charity Voice UK, a national
support and information organisation for people with learning
difficulties who have experienced crime or abuse. Emma has Down’s
syndrome and the criminal justice system has failed her. In the
eyes (and words) of the law, Emma is a “mental defective” and thus
an “incompetent witness”.

First broadcast as The Week’s Good Cause in January 1926,
the appeal is now listened to by more than two million people in
its three slots through the week.

“I was wading through possible funding streams and decided to apply
to the Radio 4 appeal,” says Kathryn Stone, director of Voice UK.
“I thought no more about it until I got a phone call from a member
of the Appeals Advisory Committee. All the BBC staff we’ve worked
with have been helpful, supportive and genuinely interested in what
we do.”

The 11 committee members – all volunteers – meet three times a
year, each time allocating 18 radio appeal slots and four
television Lifeline appeals. They allocate half as many
slots as there are applications, says BBC appeals secretary Poppy
Hughes, which seems surprisingly few. But the stumbling block is
that, as with the BBC, the charities involved should have national
UK coverage.

“It was an opportunity to fund-raise,” says Stone, “but more
importantly we were given, in a sense, a seal of approval. The BBC
is saying, ‘This organisation is valid and worth giving money to’.
It also certainly raised our profile.” Hughes emphasises this
point: “Yes, it’s about raising money but it’s also about raising

Since the appeal, the office phones have been busy, says Stone.
“We’ve had calls from parents whose children have been abused and
who hadn’t known where to go. We took one call from a barrister who
was prosecuting in a case for a young woman with learning
disabilities. He feared that the defence would argue that she was
an ‘incompetent witness’. We provided information, statistics,
advice and research evidence, which he used. When we heard that the
judge had ruled the woman’s evidence admissible and recognised her
as a competent witness, it was just an incredible feeling.”

Voice UK received hundreds of anonymous donations. “One that really
moved me,” says Stone, “was a £1 coin taped to a postcard
inside an envelope. So I put a pound into the funds and put that
postcard – with its taped coin – on our noticeboard as a reminder
that many people believe in what we do, but also as a real
motivator that we have to spend every penny wisely.”

The appeal raised nearly £8,000, although Voice UK was charged
£562 for the telephone donation-taking service. “I
optimistically hoped for £5,000,” says Stone, “because I
realise we’re not as popular as kittens or donkeys. And we provide
a service that most people would really rather not think about. So
£8,000 was remarkable.”

She says it is difficult to judge what a particular charity might
make in the Radio 4 broadcast, although the average sum raised by
each appeal over the past year has been £10,400.

Choosing the right person to make an appeal is crucial. The idea to
contact Scales came from Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart, chairperson of
Voice UK’s all-party parliamentary group.

“We had letters from listeners saying that they were moved by what
they heard,” says Stone. “The combination of the script and
Prunella bringing it so movingly to life was just brilliant.”

– Charities wishing to feature on the Radio 4 appeal should
telephone the BBC Appeals Unit on 020 7765 0769

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