The Gazette’s efforts to be a voice for the community

MP Sir Alan Beith, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham and Gazette editor Paul Larkin at the Stop Nuisance Robocalls petition handover.
MP Sir Alan Beith, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham and Gazette editor Paul Larkin at the Stop Nuisance Robocalls petition handover.

Highlighting the power of campaigning local press is the main objective of this year’s Local Newspaper Week, which runs until Sunday.

Once again, the Gazette has been involved in a number of campaigns in the past year, trying to make a difference for the communities we serve.

In February, it was announced that our campaign to stop nuisance robocalls has played a key role in a change in the law, which came into force on Monday, April 6.

Prior to that, firms could only be punished for cold-calling if the Information Commissioner could prove a call caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’.

Now, that legal requirement has been removed and it is up to the ICO to assess when a serious contravention has taken place.

Last July, the Gazette met Information Commissioner Christopher Graham at Westminster to hand over our 2,000-name petition and readers’ stories gathered in our Stop Nuisance Robocalls campaign, which was launched after a torrent of late-night automated calls left residents across Northumberland angry, upset and confused.

Mr Graham said the robocalls dossier, featuring Gazette reports, comments from our Facebook site and the petition, would help towards imposing tighter regulations on companies which continuously flout the law, describing it as ‘exhibit A in the response I am going to be making to the Government consultation on changing the law’.

On the day the law change was announced, he added: “The people of north Northumberland and the Northumberland Gazette should be patting themselves on their back.”

Elsewhere, the Jam Jar Army, founded by the Gazette and author Judith O’Reilly in 2010, launched its fourth campaign for The Stephen Carey Fund, eventually surpassing the £10,000 mark once again and taking the total raised over the Army’s life to more than £50,000.

The fifth campaign, for the Amble Shannon Appeal, is well under way after kicking off earlier this year.

The Gazette also teamed up with Alnwick-based MKM Building Supplies for the Aid for Aidan campaign to support Aidan Jackowiak Smith, who passed away last weekend, and his family. The DIY SOS-themed campaign was a community call to arms to help transform the family’s new Alnwick house from a dilapidated shell into a home which was suitable for Aidan’s needs.

It was a massive success and, thanks to the help of an army of local businesses, traders and residents, the family was able to move into the refurbished property in time for Christmas 2014.

During his visit to Alnwick last month during the election campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron described local newspapers as ‘part of the social glue that holds communities together’.

“I think local newspapers play a really key role,” he said. “It’s not just the vital information, the sports results and the local news, local newspapers are part of the social glue that holds our communities together.

“They are vitally important in our democracy because they challenge local councils, they challenge politicians, they ask the questions and they stimulate the debate. For all those reasons, local papers play a great role.

“And I’d add something to that; I talk about the Big Society where we encourage volunteering, philanthropy and people taking action in their local communities.

“Local newspapers do as much of that as anybody, encouraging the heroes and heroines that make local communities, like where we are here in Alnwick, so strong.”