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How Alfie’s Story raised awareness of ‘county lines’ child grooming tactics

Alfie’s Story is a series of short films co-written with survivors of County Lines child criminal exploitation.

Eskimosoup won the Grand Prix at The Drum Content Awards 2020 with its campaign for The Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside. Here, the team explains the challenges and ideas behind this moving, important work and its battle to protect children.

The challenge

Alfie’s Story is a series of short films co-written with survivors of County Lines child criminal exploitation and produced within a local area blighted by organised criminal gangs. Its purpose is to shine a light on what is really happening to challenge attitudes and behaviours within the community experiencing it.

The Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside encourage creativity and innovation. They recognised that in order to win the fight against serious organised crime, we need to support the police and community to work together

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside commissioned Alfie’s Story to address the emerging issue of County Lines gangs exploiting children in the local area; a series of short films to ensure that no young person in the Humberside area could be exploited due to ignorance of the grooming tactics used by criminal gangs.

Knowing that everything we said and did was up for scrutiny and debate by victims, parents, the community, police and the organised criminal gangs themselves, Eskimosoup set about researching and co-producing a story that was authentic and positive for the community we served.

The strategy

Developed as part of the ‘Not in our community’ programme owned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, the production adopted creative methods of community engagement, including enlisting the help of local film star.

The challenge was heightened as we chose to create our media in the East and West Marsh wards of Grimsby; a hotspot for County Lines drug operations where social deprivation is high and some areas have mistrust and a negative perception of authority services and the media.

A further challenge was trying to connect with both adults and children through social media. Vying for the attention of young people is notoriously difficult and doing so on a serious and complex social issue requires an authentic emotional connection between the viewers and principle characters.

Pre-launch activity included creatively co-producing a storyline and characters based on the experiences of young people and incorporating direct quotes from young County Lines survivors into the script. An Editorial Board of young volunteers was created to make sure that all aspects felt authentic and challenged attitudes.

Local casting within Grimsby ensured community buy-in in an area that felt damaged by media portrayal. The approach included recruiting Grimsby-actor Thomas Turgoose, who was cast in the Shane Meadows movie, This is England, at a local community centre as a volunteer to help hold open auditions.

The campaign

We launched the series in November 2018 at the same community centre with an audience of cast, family, police, former gang members and local media in attendance. The PR launch was coordinated with Humberside Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner who allowed media access to the team working with communities to combat organised crime.

Later in November 2018, distributing all parts as a serialisation on Facebook boosted to the local target audience, with interactive Instagram Stories soliciting viewer comments and polls from the young follower base, and addition to the ‘Not in our community’ YouTube channel as a playlist.

In February and March 2019, holding Youth Summits in Grimsby, Hull and Beverley to which students and staff from all secondary schools were invited for a screening and Q&A with the cast and crew.

The innovation in Alfie’s Story was in seeing this as much more than a one-off awareness raising exercise and something that could be improved by embracing the interactive elements of social media:

In July 2019, tailoring of the Alfie’s Story film to make it look as though it is based in Hull, Goole, Bridlington, and Scunthorpe and therefore increasing hyper-localisation of message.

The tailored version for Bridlington was viewed on Facebook by 24,000 people in Bridlington (population 34,000), hundreds of whom responded positively to the message with many adults calling for the film to be “shown in all schools”.

In August 2019, we released Georgia’s Story. Based on a true story of child sexual exploitation, we worked with a survivor to develop a narrative on how her experience is comparable to Alfie’s whose character appeared in the story to update on his progress whilst the next parts were in preproduction.

Parts 3 and 4 were launched in March 2020. Given that the launch came so close to the Covid-19 lockdown in April 2020 we adapted the resource and created a home learning plan with interactive sessions that could be done on your own, with a parent or carer or a small group setting in school or online. This was promoted with a powerful message from the Police & Crime Commissioner for Humberside through community networks and all secondary schools in the Humber area.

Key points of Alfie’s Story have been adapted for Instagram Story with elements of user choice, i.e. what would you do next? All 4-parts are being upgraded for interactive quizzes for certified elearning.

The results

Launched in November 2018 and serialised until March 2020, Alfie’s Story has strategically moved the conversation on when it comes to child exploitation by organised criminal gangs. It has addressed the local objectives in a meaningful highly impactful way whilst also captivating a national audience of millions and gaining recognition for authenticity and excellence that far surpassed the expectations and moderate budget.

In terms of local impact, the campaign delivered 79.5% brand recognition within the target area of the Humber; 56,000 secondary school aged children and their community (sample size 1,407 13 to 17-year olds in the Humber area).

Parts 1 and 2 of Alfie’s Story going live was the lead news story on all traditional media covering the Humber area: BBC Look North, ITV Calendar, Viking FM, and BBC Radio Humberside.

Three child criminal exploitation survivors in the Humber area have contacted us to say that they think Alfie’s Story is a brilliant piece of work and that they want to share what happened to them to help prevent this from happening to others.

Three days after the launch of Alfie’s Story part 1 we received this message to our Facebook page: “I’ve seen Alfie’s Story. I think this is what my mates are trying to get me to do.” We were able to refer this young person to support and have since had correspondence that he has not become involved in the criminal gang.

The reception of Alfie’s Story parts 1 and 2 lead to a successful bid to the Home Office and the Community Safety Partnership in North East Lincolnshire to make parts 3 and 4 along with a 'making of' documentary.

In terms of national impact, the campaign achieved over 4 million YouTube views (over 270,000 hours watch time of Alfie’s Story), over 25,000 YouTube likes and over 2,000 comments.

Alfie’s Story has been recommended as best practice by the National Crime Agency, the Child Exploitation National Working Group, and Public Health England.

“There isn’t a similar kind of input in anywhere else in the country. We are using young people in the right way, to get their ideas around how to influence their peers to make them more resistant to being brought into that kind of lifestyle.” - Keith Hunter, Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Content in 2020. To find out which competitions in The Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here, or visit our new interactive calendar.