Impassioning the North East with Weston Communicating Climate

Posted 16 February 2023

The Natural History Society of Northumbria work hard to protect the nature of the North East of England and encourage local communities to learn from its beautiful wildlife. Ellie, a naturalist and ecologist, took part in our Weston Communicating Climate Programme with the aim of finding out how the organisation can blossom in its communications and inspire new audiences with awe and wonder.

Founded in 1829, Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) is a community for those who study nature and enjoy wildlife in Northumberland, Durham, and Tyne & Wear. Our vision is simple – more, and a wider range of, people enjoying, understanding, and protecting the nature of the North East. Our purpose is to inspire wonder and collective action in all aspects of the North East’s natural history through the delivery of high-quality communications, events, lifelong learning, citizen science, Gosforth Nature Reserve and a regional natural history archive and library. 

We aim to engage 25,000 people a year through our areas of focus: ‘North East Nature’ (celebrating the region’s natural history), ‘Climate and biodiversity emergency’ (raising awareness of the challenges climate change brings) and ‘Everyone’s a naturalist’ (supporting people to notice and protect nature wherever they are, and whatever their abilities). We hope that promoting these areas will bring about new audiences and eyes to NHSN’s work and, in turn, will attract further support and protection for our local nature and wildlife. 

But to reach this goal and inspire change in the North East and beyond, we needed to begin to transform our communications and find new ways to engage wider, motived audiences. 

A group of tree planting volunteers stood outside and posing for the picture.

NHSN volunteers.

We have a range of social media channels, a website, a weekly newsletter, and a magazine released to members three times a year. In the past we have also used local newspapers and articles in other organisations magazines. We had begun developing the initial stages of audience segments to follow and target different media to and increased our communications output by appointing a Communications and Engagement Officer in 2018.  

Having grown our digital engagement during the pandemic, we now needed guidance on how to continue growing, along with the return of face-to-face engagement. All these ideas and goals needed tightening and an upgraded level of support – and this is where Weston Communicating Climate swooped in! 

After learning about Media Trust and the programme through word-of-mouth recommendations and social media, we decided to apply as it felt like it was exactly what we needed to raise our profile. We hoped that the programme would help us to develop a communications plan that would achieve our goals. We were also looking for guidance as we are a small team covering a large area, and none of us are communications trained.  

Furthermore, we also applied to Weston Communicating Climate with the goal of helping us adopt change by being clear about our intended impact to audiences. NHSN also wanted to learn how to plan effective messaging and improve framing, storytelling, and our organisation’s voice to mobilise support for our cause. We hoped that junior and inexperienced members of the team working on communications could learn from every aspect of the programme.

We feel that NHSN’s role as a communicator has vastly grown.

Natural History Society of Northumbria logo.

Our highlights of the programme included the use of numerous examples, learning from media professionals and from the experiences of other charities on each topic covered. Practical highlights included how to create captivating content for social media, something we have used in every aspect of our work since, from videomaking to working effectively across social media platforms to increase engagement. Since the programme, we have integrated the communications plan we developed to create an in depth short, medium, and long strategy for our social engagement.  

Furthermore, each session had a learning point for us that increased our ability to communicate climate issues in a way that appeals to audiences both within and outside our typical reach. We were able to delve deeper into our supporters’ minds and learn about what may interest them and encourage them to engage with our communications and further.

For example, we learnt about how spread awareness in our communications, in a way that was accessible for all audiences, and to make a real difference. The training has allowed us to frame our outputs in the best way to do this, while captivating different audiences with varied interests.

Previously, we felt that framing climate within communications can be difficult given how broad and divisive the topic can be, but Weston Communicating Climate opened our eyes to different ways to approach this.

Natural History Society of Northumbria logo.
A collage showing NHSN volunteers.

NHSN volunteers and participants.

Since completing Weston Communicating Climate, we have developed a long-term communications strategy and broadened our thinking about how we will reach and impassion more people about nature in the North East. Furthermore, we have used the training to frame our day-to-day communications outputs, particularly across social media. Tailoring new and existing content to a wider range of audiences, across different social media platforms, has largely increased our engagement and following.

We have been able to develop advertising campaigns for membership with a thoughtful and captivating message and carefully selected imagery, using the learnings from the programme. 

In the future, we hope to build partnerships with other organisations, from the programme and beyond, to further spread our important message, as suggested by the Media Trust team and volunteers on this inspiring programme.  

We felt supported throughout the programme, always remaining in contact with the Media Trust team when needing responses to questions both about the programme and the charity challenge

Natural History Society of Northumbria logo.

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