A digitally-led campaign by The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) has been shortlisted for a top PR award.
'Virtual Pilgrimage' was an initiative last November which saw the Bishop of Burnley, Rt Rev Philip North, record at least one daily video log (vlog) while leading a pilgrimage of around 40 people from parishes across Lancashire in Israel.
A total of 13 vlogs were made on location across the 10 days of the pilgrimage. They have now been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube by people Bishop Philip has dubbed 'virtual pilgrims'. Meanwhile the vlogs have continued to have a greater life far beyond the initial pilgrimage itself.
And now 'Virtual Pilgrimage' has been shortlisted in the 'Not For Profit Campaign' category of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) North West PRide Awards for 2018.
The CIPR PRide Awards cover every region of the UK and feature the cream of PR work from the last year. The Church of England in Lancashire is shortlisted alongside campaigns by big-name PR agencies such as Weber Shandwick.
Conceived and coordinated by Ronnie Semley, Diocesan Communications Manager, the 'Virtual Pilgrimage' campaign was led on location in Israel by Bishop Philip, with camera work by Rev Alice Whalley, one of the pilgrims.
Each vlog was just two minutes or less and featured the bishop describing each day's activities in his own unique way; speaking in places as diverse as the Sea of Galilee and an ancient water tunnel deep under Jerusalem!
The fascinating vlogs also featured interviews with some of the pilgrims and, on one occasion, The Dean of St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, The Very Rev Hosam Naoum.
Fitting well with the 'being witnesses' element of the Diocesan Vision 2026 Healthy Churches Transforming Communities, the pilgrimage was heavily promoted to the local and regional media as well as the national church press and captured the imaginations of many people.
As well as featuring in local newspapers and the community TV station That's Lancashire TV, the vlogs were also a hit on BBC Radio Lancashire. The radio station used audio from the vlogs as part of its regular programming; as well as interviewing the Bishop before and after the pilgrimage and live from Israel during the trip as well. The professional-quality audio was also further edited by the BBC to create a 30-minute special programme which aired at Christmas 2017; repeated at Easter 2018.
Meanwhile the Church Times also asked Bishop Philip to write about the experience for a feature article in a special pilgrimage supplement publishing in January 2018.
The vlogs have been well received in parishes and schools where they have been watched and shared by many individuals and groups - with many schools showing them in RE lessons. There are now plans to create bespoke resources to be used alongside the vlogs as part of the RE curriculum. These will be developed by the Diocesan Board of Education.
Speaking today Bishop Philip said: “This was a really imaginative idea from Ronnie and it was terrific to find a way of including so many others in the amazing experience of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The pressures of a pilgrimage timetable meant we had to think quickly and there was no real time to plan or prepare the vlogs – it was literally point, film and run. That spontaneity brings a sense of authenticity to the vlogs and I suspect it is part of what has made them so popular.
“I am amazed by the reach of the project and the impact the videos have had, given the simplicity of the initial concept; and especially pleased at the way they have been picked up by schools. It is amazing what a bit of raw imagination can do!”
Ronnie Semley, the Diocesan Communications Manager, who lives in Clayton-le-Woods, added: "I am delighted 'Virtual Pilgrimage' has been shortlisted for this award by the CIPR in this, its 70th anniversary year. This was a hugely enjoyable campaign which had God at its heart, as we had limited resources (and limited wifi!) but it all came together so well.
"Watched together the vlogs give you a tangible sense of what being on a pilgrimage would be like. And we know from feedback received that many people - those who followed each day and others who have viewed the videos in the months since - felt the same way.
“The impact of the vlogs has also stretched far beyond the initial period of the pilgrimage in so many different ways and this has only added to the sense of excitement about the success of the project.”
Rev Alice Whalley, who was responsible for the filming work, added: “This was a great initiative to be involved in and the vlogs also provide a fantastic resource for parishes as well as schools. I have used them in my own parish in the months since for example, to help people prepare to go on pilgrimage.”
Meanwhile, the success of the Diocese in being shortlisted was also recognised today by Adrian Harris, Church of England Head of Digital, based at Church House in Westminster, who said: "This is fantastic news and shows how digital communications can be used to bring the Christian faith to life.
“It also demonstrates the opportunity to take user-generated content and make it available across a range of mediums to further increase engagement and reach.
“Congratulations to colleagues in Blackburn Diocese on this achievement!"