Campaign: Father gets high to save his church roof

The South London borough of London is home to one of Europe's largest drugs markets, has the capital's highest percentage of people with mental illness, and is one of the most deprived council wards in the country. Read on...

Campaign A Night on the Tiles
Client St Michael's Church Camden
PR team Media Ambitions
Timescale June-July 2006
Budget £10,000

Religious support is provided by local church St Michael's, which has welcomed worshippers and the needy since it opened in 1881. Its grounds are also one of the neighbourhood's biggest open spaces.

Although the church itself has Grade II listed status, the building was recently put on English Heritage's At Risk register due to problems with the roof, and it faced closure. To raise funds to repair the building, Father Malcolm Hunter lived for nearly two weeks on the roof. He used local agency Media Ambitions to promote the stunt.

Objectives
To raise awareness of St Michael's Church in Camden, and gain at least £100,000 - which English Heritage would match - to fix the roof. To highlight the plight of homeless people in the borough.

Strategy and Plan
Because 44-year-old Hunter was preparing to bed down on the church roof, Media Ambitions focused on the ‘danger' involved - highlighting the extent to which the Father was prepared to go to restore his church.

Press releases revealed that Hunter would sleep 72 feet up without covers, regardless of weather, from Thursday 29 June until Sunday 9 July. Just as importantly, he would only eat the food - and use the toilet facilities             - typically available to homeless people in the borough.

National newspapers, broadcasters and radio stations, as well as local London press, were all alerted to the stunt, and a website - anightonthetiles.org - was created to encourage people to sponsor the ‘David Blaine of the Church of England'.

The PR team made various homelessness case studies available to the press. It also invited the public to join Hunter on the church roof in return for sponsorship cash. Media Ambitions arranged photocalls over the ten nights, and invited the Bishop of London, Richard John Carew Chartres, to experience Hunter's perch.

Measurement and Evaluation
National print and broadcast press coverage was extensive, including interest in the US, Australia and Russia. In the UK nationals, the stunt appeared in The Sun, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Regional newspapers that covered the story included the Oxford Courier, as well as local publications the Camden Gazette, Camden New Journal, Watford Observer and Ham & High. Trade titles included Third Sector, and The Church Times.

Capital FM, Sunrise Radio, BBC London, Sky Radio and Heart FM all featured the story, the latter of which gave Hunter a live interview.

GMTV, BBC News 24, BBC London, London Tonight, and NBC all filmed Hunter on the roof. The story was also picked up by events database londonatlarge.com, bbc.co.uk, and the websites of The Diocese of London and communitynewswire.org.

Results
More than £111,000 was raised by the public over the ten days as a result of A Night on the Tiles. English Heritage will now match this sum, taking the total roof fund to £222,000.

SECOND OPINION, Martin Sheppard

Everyone loves the combination of dog-collar and indignity. And a church building always inspires affection, whether or not we use it, just like the red telephone box.

But what about personal cost? Illusionist David Blaine won derision for his Tower of London box stunt because the purpose was simply to attract attention. Here, though, great effort was made to ensure the integrity of Father Hunter's campaign.

To avoid being a farce,  A Night on the Tiles needed to avoid mawkishness or sentimentality. To not backfire, the stunt had to be real and sincere. The vertigo, sunburn, lack of sanitation, sleeplessness and occasional wretchedness of Hunter all ensured that his stunt was seen to be in pursuit of a higher purpose.

Did it work? It raised the money, so it worked. Some reports stressed the priority of restoring and adapting the church to better serve the community. Others served to articulate not just the immediate issue, but the church's greater calling, too - and that is a real bonus.

Two months after Hunter made the news, the Archbishop of York also won huge attention for his week's fast and prayer for peace in a tent in York Minster. He repeatedly directed press attention to the war-torn Middle East. The cost to the archbishop was repaid through the thoughtful news coverage, which reflected on the scale of an injustice that could move a man to such a response.

Martin Sheppard is comms officer for the Diocese of York

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