It is an everyday story of internet folk and this time the tale is particularly heartwarming. An online donations page on behalf of a fictional character in the long-running soap, the Archers, has raised over £10,000 for domestic violence charity Refuge.
Archers fan Paul Trueman set up the Helen Titchener (née Archer) Rescue Fund on Tuesday night in response to a powerful storyline in the BBC Radio 4 soap involving the abuse of Helen Titchener by her controlling husband, Rob.
Overnight and within 12 hours of its launch, some £1,300 had been pledged to an appeal that pointed out that “for every fictional Helen, there are real ones”, beating Trueman’s initial target of £1,000. By Thursday lunchtime the page was on track to reach the new £10,000 target.
Support came from Refuge, which said the donations had already paid for 160 nights’ respite for victims of abuse, and long-time Archers fan Helen Walmsley Johnson, who wrote a heartbreaking account of her own abuse in the New Statesman this week which helped spur Trueman’s fundraising efforts.
Speaking to the Guardian from his home in north Devon, Trueman said he had been so moved by both the article and Tuesday night’s storyline in which the fictional Helen tries to escape with her young son that he had set up the JustGiving page on a whim.
“It was just a way of turning this negative, horrible storyline, which has been brilliantly done and acted, into something positive. There are millions of massively loyal Archers fans and if each one just sent in a pound it would help,” Trueman said.
The idea of raising money for Refuge had come from Walmsley Johnson, formerly of the Guardian.
The Archers storyline has been a slow burning tale about the arrival of a charming but manipulative man into the village and his impact on Helen, a single mother who had previously suffered with eating disorders.
With the suggestion of marital rape off-air and the on-air coercion, the menace of the ongoing relationship has prompted an outpouring of support and anguish on social media.
After joining in the reaction to the latest twist in the tale, Trueman, the head of social for a creative advertising agency, told the Guardian: “If this was a real story you would call your mates and go to get her because you fear something bad is going to happen.” Instead, he thought, “what if you had a rescue fund and a whip round?”
On the page he set up within an hour, Trueman wrote: “If over the last year or two you’ve sworn at the radio, tweeted in outrage, taken the name ‘Robert’ in vain, or posted your disgust at the worsening situation in Blossom Hill Cottage, then now’s your chance to do something constructive about it.
“A fiver could get Helen (and Henry) a taxi (she’s not allowed to drive) round to the safety of her mum’s farm. A tenner could get her that maternity top (she had to send back). Just a crisp twenty could order a seasonal starter at Grey Gables and perhaps a quiet, conciliatory word with its head chef.
“Time to do something constructive and think of all the women who are genuinely stuck in relationships like this – and much, much worse.”
He credited Walmsley Johnson for suggesting Refuge as the right place to help “real Helens”.
In her article this week, Walmsley Johnson pointed out the importance of the storyline so soon after new laws made coercive or controlling domestic abuse a crime punishable by up to five years in prison last December.
Trueman found support on Twitter for his campaign from government minister Anna Soubry and Archers actors playing Fallon and Susan.
Having won praise for its social impact and acting, the story has also increased Archers ratings. In last quarter of 2015 the average weekly audience for the show was 4.84m, up from 4.74m the year before.