The Big Story

Written by Philip on Tuesday 9th February 2021

The Big Story 2021

Following upon the massive success of the first Big Story in 2020, we are inviting submissions to the Big Story 2021 competition.

2020 was a tough year for everyone and charities were, of course, no exception. Almost overnight, last March our income plummeted as supporters lost jobs and businesses and we had to cancel events, challenges and any fundraising face-to-face engagements with the public and potential donors. But with every negative there can also be a positive, and the setback prompted a creative response from me that inspired others. 

My idea was to invite supporters of all ages to write a memoir of childhood. This was appropriate since at that time Pipal Tree's name was "ChoraChori" which is the Nepalese word for children (our new name reflects additional community and environmental interests). We set up a microsite, volunteer graphic designer Peter Helliwell did our logo and I recruited judges and celebrity support. Joanna Lumley readily agreed to be a figurehead for the campaign and you can see her stirring message in the adjacent image. We gave participants two months to compile two thousand words, invited a £25 entry fee and asked writers to seek encouragement from friends and family with additional sponsorship. These funds could be paid in through a linked Big Give appeal (hence the "Big" Story), meaning that all proceeds could automatically double in value. 

The prizes consisted of gift vouchers for the winners and runners-up (first prize was £200) but the real prize was the prospect of having winner and runner up stories read out, on film, by a prominent person, an actor or actress. These included our charity Ambassadors Amrita Acharia and Mark Curry, with other readers being Sacha Dhawan, Amanda Root, James Krishna Floyd, Sagar Radia, Mandip Gill, Tara Arkle and Sheena Bhattessa. Volunteer Adrian MacFarlane, a professional film-maker and producer edited some of the films while I tried my hand at editing a few myself! And the writers were welcome to send imagery to be spliced into the films.

The response was enthusiastic and amazing from around the world. Some entries came in from established writers but most were putting pen to paper for the first time in their lives. In total we had 127 entries, most of these being from Soroptimists from the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. We had writers who were well into their eighties, reflecting on stories that grandchildren or even great grandchildren will cherish and that might otherwise have been lost to posterity. 

The judges were writers Shirley Mann, Clare Harvey and Wakanyi Hoffman and our Ambassadors Amrita Acharia and Mark Curry. It must have been a daunting prospect to read through such a volume of writing but clearly the task had its rewards as evidenced by some of the judges' comments. Mark Curry wrote of one that he judged: "Fast moving, direct, we were captivated from the first sentence to the last.  A timeless piece, containing excitement, humour and an insightful look at the relationship between the brothers and sister.  It would be so enjoyable to narrate and the visuals would add to the drama. Very skilled, talented writing."  And Mark's wish came true as we invited him to tell Tom Rawlings' story "The Ladybird Bike".

The winning entry was by Soroptimist June Money, who reflected on her childhood during the German occupation of Guernsey:

Personally, I particularly admired "What Might Have Been", the very brave submission by Irene Hockin, writing about how her childhood was devastated by her father's domestic abuse.

Some of the other remarkable recordings appear at the end of this post for your enjoyment.

The initiative raised an incredible £20,765, including matching pledges. The top individual sponsorship came from Soroptimist Sandra Dieffenthaller, in Trinidad and Tobago, who raised almost £3,000. We were able to direct the Soroptimist contributions towards their chosen "Empowering girls in Nepal" project. That's just too valuable a response not to try and repeat this year!

For the 2021 competition, we are inviting entrants to write a maximum of 800 words on a different subject: "My unsung hero". The hero can be someone who has not been in the public eye, still alive or not, whom you have admired or who might have had a particular impact on you, your friends or community. It could be an inspirational relative or maybe a teacher from your formative years. The subject can be someone who is alive today or who has long since passed away and deserves a tribute. Judges will naturally be looking for some nice original writing, but will favour submissions that relate to a hero whom they have never heard of before.

We will be awarding three gift voucher prizes worth £200, £100, £50 to the top three entries and a fourth prize of a £100 voucher for the most sponsorship raised. The minimum entry fee is £25 but we hope that entrants will once again use this opportunity to find sponsorship. Once again, funds can be paid into our summer Big Give appeal that launches at noon on the 8th June. When the appeal goes live we will send entrants a reminder by email that they can pass on to their sponsors. By using the Big Give all your donations and sponsorship can double in value (i.e., your £25 entry fee automatically becomes £50) but this is strictly on a first-come-first-served basis and while a pot of matching pledges is available. The deadline for entries is noon on the 28th June when the Big Give appeal also closes. All submissions should be sent by email to Bev Holmes in Word or pdf format. We will announce the winners on the 16th July. The judges' decisions will be independent and final.

The funds raised, along with any matching amounts, will go towards our Empowering Girls in Nepal programme and specifically towards the operating costs of the Lily's Leaves social enterprise in Kathmandu. Lily's Leaves provides education, vocational training, life-skills and mental health support to vulnerable girls and women from marginalised communities across rural Nepal through residential courses.

Happy writing!

A selection from The Big Story 2020:

"Brothers in Arms" by Fraser Dawtrey:

"Recollections of an Ormeau Boy" by Ivan Hunter:

"A Sky Full of Clouds" by Jen Neville:

"Holiday in Nice 1960" by Barbara Brown:

"Charlie Boy" by Pam Cheesley-Hollinshead:

"Primary School Memories in the Highlands of Kenya" by Helen Lyth:

"Memories of a Girl Child" by Laxmi Parasuram:

"Risks and Care-Takers" by Carole Evans:

"Aama" by Shristi Singh Shrestha:


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