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Review of 2014: Journalists who made a difference

The fight on both local and national issues has continued again this year in the regional press, with a number of innovative campaigns leading to positive change for its readership.

In the latest of our Review of the Year round-ups we look back at the newspapers and journalists who made a difference in 2014.

This year daily and weekly newspapers across the UK have brought football clubs home, given commuters more places to sit and even tackled the concept of loneliness – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pounds raised for charities and good causes.

At the start of the year, it was a weekly editor’s own personal health campaign that saw him become a poster boy for weight loss on his patch, and raise £500.

Barry Peters, of the Bury Free Press, lost four stone and raised the cash as part of his paper’s Beat It appeal, which raised more than £55,000 to buy prostate cancer probe equipment at West Suffolk Hospital.

As a result he featued on a poster which went on display in leisure centres across his patch.

The following month staff at the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald were celebrating after discovering they had been successful in a bid to save one of Penrith’s fire engines being axed by council cuts.

The campaign, launched three months prior to the announcement, saw posters produced and more than 1,000 readers fill in forms expressing their disgust at the proposal.

In March, hyperlocal blog Inside Croydon learned it had also forced a local authority U-turn over the closure of an arthouse cinema in the town.

The decision was the culmination of three years of campaigning on the issue, which gained support from Oscar-winning screenwriter and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

In the same month a company-wide campaign saw KM Group journalists deliver then-Home Office Minister Norman Baker with a dossier outlining the dangers of legal highs as part of its campaign to highlight the dangers of the products.

It came after several incidents involving teenagers in Kent being hospitalised after using them in the preceding months and in July police seized around 1,300 items for testing in raids on 18 shops across Kent.

A few days later it was the turn of The Bolton News to visit Westminster with a 1,400-name petition calling on the government to provide extra capacity on packed commuter trains running through the town.

In consequence David Cameron pledged to increase the number of seats available for passengers in the area.

A successful bid to raise an astonishing £1m for a hospice on the Keighley News’ patch was being celebrated in April.

The drive even saw news editor Richard Parker run the London Marathon to boost the total, in spite of having suffered a broken spine as a teenager.

May saw the Yorkshire Post take the campaign of the year prize at the Regional Press Awards for its innovative campaign Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic.

The scheme pledged to tackle the issue across the county, and won the backing of TV personality Esther Rantzen.

Since its launch in February, four local authorities have promised to dedicate more resources to combating the problem, while an audio bank charting readers’ experiences with loneliness is currently being built up by Post reporters.

In September a Midlands daily won parliamentary praise for its fight to get a local football club playing home games back in the city it serves again.

The Coventry Telegraph’s #bringCityhome campaign and reporter Simon Gilbert were congratulated by Coventry North East MP Bob Ainsworth after Coventry City returned after a year of playing home games 35 miles away in Northampton.

In September battle lines were drawn ahead of the Scottish independence referendum – with Glasgow-based Newsquest title the Sunday Herald the only regional newspaper to come out in favour of the move.

Titles south of the border also waded into the debate, with the Southern Daily Echo, Northants Telegraph and Nottingham Post among English newspapers to publish pro-union pieces.

Their calls were also backed by the Western Mail in Wales.

In the wake of Scotland’s No vote, two rival North East dailies – The Journal and Northern Echo – published a joint front page calling for further devolution to the region which was backed by a number of other Northern English titles.

Animal lovers were left broken-hearted in the same month when a fire Manchester Dogs’ Home claimed the lives of 60 canines.

But an MEN appeal gave hope to the survivors after an “absolutely phenomenal” reader response to a donation page set up on its website raised more than £1.4m in just one weekend.

On a lighter note, the Eastern Daily Press was toasting its success in helping villagers save their last remaining pub from closure.

Drinkers at the King’s Arms in Shouldham, Norfolk, received the Norwich-based title’s backing, along with that of actor Stephen Fry, to raise the £150,000 needed to buy the stricken pub.

The EDP was also praised by Prime Minister David Cameron the following month when its Norfolk and Lowestoft Flood Appeal, set up to help those who suffered in last December’s flooding, raised £330,000 – seven times its original target.

Unusual success for a newspaper campaign came in the form of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette’s zimmer amnesty scheme, run with its local NHS Trust to get missing walking frames returned to hospitals.

Around three times the number of zimmers were returned to Hertfordshire medical centres after the weekly gave the Trust its backing.

And finally, there was the bereaved schoolboy who got to meet his idol as an early Christmas treat thanks to his local weekly.

The Kentish Gazette set up its The Elf Service campaign, designed to encourage random acts of kindness suggested by readers, and saw England cricket star Kevin Pietersen pay a visit to 10-year-old Ryan Belsey, who had recently lost his father.

The pair enjoyed a knockabout at Ryan’s Canterbury school after the Gazette made KP aware of his situation.