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South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Black History Month exhibition - Comms case study

In October last year South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue launched what we believe was the first ever fire service Black History Month exhibition. It featured portraits of 11 members of staff with BME backgrounds - including our first ever black firefighter.


What was the situation, problem or opportunity?

The problem we face is that, much like most other fire and rescue services, black and minority ethnic people continue to be massively underrepresented within our organisation. Black History Month gave us an opportunity to start and try to change that. Of course we were under no illusion that we could fix everything in a month, but we had to start somewhere.

SYFRS Black History Month Exhibition

What did you do?

We worked with our BME staff group to get 11 members of staff, past and present, together who were willing to be photographed. We knew that one of our finance team did portrait photography in his spare time so we reached out and asked for his support - he gladly obliged and was allowed to do this within his working hours.

We organised for the photos to be taken, got them printed onto big boards and arranged for them to be exhibited, on easels, at popular locations throughout Sheffield - the train station being one really good example.

We also arranged a launch event where we unveiled the photos. Everyone who featured in the exhibition was invited, as was the local media, our fire authority and various other members of staff.


What, if anything, didn’t work?

This was a rare occasion where pretty much everything went to plan. The biggest challenge for us was that that we had to squeeze everything into three weeks. There was a benefit to this - in that it kept us focused - but should anything big have come in during that period the whole thing could have got derailed. It's worth noting here, though, that generally we plan our work quite far in advance - the last minute element of this project came down to the idea being a very valuable added extra.


What did work?

We wanted to do something different and get people's attention and that certainly worked.

In terms of specifics, though, working with the BME staff group to get people's buy in was a big thing. Without the staff group chair being on board (we met with him before we did anything else and pestered him most days afterwards) there's no way we'd have got so many people involved.

Working together as a team worked, too. This sounds obvious but all four of us played a part. We had clearly defined roles and worked to those roles - rather than letting just one person carry the can. We discussed progress, briefly, every day and were swift in our decision making - we wouldn't have been able to do it in three weeks if we were debating every small decision at great length. There was no hierarchy.


How did you measure success or failure?

We had great feedback from our staff, the media coverage was super positive and we had great feedback from the people who saw the exhibition on their travels. A group from the Home Office travelled up from London to see it, too.

Perhaps more important than that, though, is that it helped solidify our relationship with our BME staff group and it showed people across the organisation, particularly those at the top, what our team is capable of - especially as we pulled it together in three weeks.

And even more important than all of that were the actual results. A few pats on the back are nice but that isn't really what we're after. That's why we put a clear objective in at the start - to dramatically increase the amount of BME people registering their interest in careers with us (via our website) as a result of the exhibition.

This meant including a clear call to action in all of the communication we put out - pushing people towards the job section on our website.

In the end we saw an 88 percent increase in registrations of interest during October, compared to an average month. Other measures include:

  • An estimated 485,000 people saw the physical exhibition whilst it was on the road
  • News of the exhibition reached around 783,000 people through traditional media
  • We reached approximately 200,000 people through our own channels


What comms tools did you use?

The main thing was the physical exhibition - photos and easels hosted at popular locations across Sheffield. We used the traditional media to spread the word and a launch event to kick things off. We used Facebook to push out the job registration link and also produced a booklet that gave information about each of the people featured. Finally we had a video produced that explained everything we had done and why.


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