Congratulations to Aaron Walawalkar, Ilford Recorder, Archant Community Media, who is the winner of The Local Hero Award for Regional Digital Journalism
Your Elevator Pitch
Aaron led a year-long newspaper crowdfunding campaign called Redbridge Together. It sought to improve the London Borough of Redbridge’s rough sleeping crisis, raising £21,123 for two charities.
The campaign launched in March 2018 and aimed to galvanise businesses to raise funds for two projects helping rough sleepers. By the end of March 2019, Aaron wrote more than 40 stories and filmed and edited six video pieces - helping to raise £21,123.13.
An investigation he carried out revealed that nine people died homeless in the borough in the year to October 2018. This sadly rose to 10 the following month. He created an interactive photo gallery summarising the stories of the deceased which was the seventh most viewed gallery across Archant’s 54 newspapers in 2018 (8,500 views). Redbridge Council said it would ‘learn lessons’ after he revealed it had investigated none of these deaths.
The piece he is most proud of is a feature and video piece examining the plight of the disproportionate number undocumented Indian migrants stuck sleeping rough in Ilford. They made up six of the 10 who died homeless since October 2017. Many are stuck in a bureaucratic limbo - unable to claim UK government support due to their immigration status, nor return to India as obtaining replacement Indian passports has proven a painstakingly long and difficult process. The article was the month’s fifth most read story with around 10,000 unique views. It prompted an immediate £3,000 donation from local business TaxResolute.
After covering the story for the Recorder, Aaron reworked it for the Guardian with reporter Ben Quinn. It was the sixth most read story when published online on November 15. Weeks later, Redbridge Council announced it would give a £2.5million boost towards building Project Malachi - the temporary shelter our campaign had been raising money for. In response, the Indian High Commission said it had contacted the council “to get details of these Indian citizens so that relief can be provided to them expeditiously”.
The Local Hero Award for Regional Digital Journalism is supported by Google News Initiative.