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Review of 2015: Journalists who made a difference

Yet again regional newspapers have spent the past 12 months tirelessly campaigning for changes in the law, raising money for good causes and aiming to make a positive difference to the communities they serve.

In the latest of our Review of the Year round-ups we look back at the newspapers and journalists who made a difference in 2015.

MEN dogs 1It was a year in which drug laws were changed, murder investigations re-opened…..and a dog thanked a regional daily for its new home.

The Manchester Evening News saw the fruits of its labour realised after raising £1.4m to help build a Manchester Dogs’ Home, following the 2014 fire which destroyed the original home.

It was also a year which saw the industry unite as one body in defence of freedom of information laws after David Cameron set up a commission to ‘review the Act.

But 2015 began with one of the more tongue-in-cheek campaigns on which HTFP has reported in recent years which saw a weekly newspaper editor appear on national TV to debate his local MP.

Glenn Ebrey, then in the chair at the Croydon Advertiser, found himself facing off against Tory Gavin Barwell on the BBC’s Daily Politics after the paper had launched its ‘Campaign to End All Campaigns’ as a satirical response to the MP’s sudden flurry of campaigns in the months leading up to the General Election.

On a more serious note, the Advertiser found out in April it had been successful in its four-year bid to introduce new drug-driving laws after the death of a schoolgirl at the hands of a cannabis-affected driver in 2011.

February saw victory for the Malvern Gazette’s bid to get online warnings posted by the local council when its patch’s famous spring water was contaminated, while a splash by the Darlington-based Northern Echo about an unemployed disabled man saw him offered six jobs in the space of just a week.

Around 30 miles up the road, the Sunderland Echo was celebrating after its 34,000-strong petition saved the city’s central fire station from being axed by Government cuts.

Also in the North-East, the Northumberland Gazette won praise from Information Commissioner Christopher Graham in March after its campaign brought about a change in the law on “wicked” nuisance phone calls.

The following month saw drinkers raise a glass to York daily The Press after a new law which allows pubs to be given planning protection as Assets of Community Value marked success in its Be Vocal For Your Local drive.

In June, Cambridgeshire Police announced it would re-open a 20-year-old investigation into the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave after an 18-month bid by the Cambs Times and its editor John Elworthy.

And July saw another 18-month campaign declare victory, after the Evesham Journal helped raise £500,000 to restore Evesham Abbey’s 500-year-old bell tower.

In August, a two-year appeal by the Bradford Telegraph & Argus culminated in £1m being raised for the University of Bradford to buy a cutting-edge machine to speed up research into cancer.

Elsewhere, more than 50 instruments were handed in to The Gazette, Blackpool, after it set up an appeal to help youngsters across its patch take up music. Among those to donate was Pet Shop Boys keyboard player Chris Lowe.

The Syrian refugee crisis saw three regional dailies – the Birmingham Mail, MEN, and The Star, Sheffield – make front page pleas for more to be done to help those fleeing the war-torn country in September.

The Mail’s campaign saw Birmingham declared a ‘City of Sanctuary’ for refugees three months later.

Remembering those who died in past wars also proved a popular campaigning issue in the regional press this year.

The Rotherham Advertiser saw a memorial to those from the town who died Second World War realised after raising £30,000, while MEN chief report Neal Keeling was instrumental in getting a new war memorial installed in Salford.

The Burton Mail began planting 12 trees on its patch in remembrance of fallen soldiers after raising £2,500 in its Pennies for our Heroes appeal.

Some of the surplus cash from the campaign was used to save the town’s November remembrance parade from being cancelled.

Helping animals was also a theme of the year’s regional press campaigning.  Alongside the MEN’s dogs home appeal, the Greenock Telegraph’s ‘Justice for Pets’ campaign led to a  Scottish Government pledge to review animal protection laws.

The campaign was launched after the Telegraph revealed a man suspected of bludgeoning defenceless animals to death with a golf club at a petting zoo on its patch would not face justice due to a time bar loophole in Scottish animal welfare legislation.

Another animal-minded appeal saw the Nottingham Post raise hundreds of pounds to save the life of cat suspected of being an illegal Polish immigrant on the day it was due to be put down.

And to top it all a cat which fled a caravan after a motorway crash was reunited with its psychic medium owner thanks to an appeal by the Mid Devon Gazette.