How social media unites communities in face of tragedy

By Mark Andrews | Bridgnorth | News | Published: | Last Updated:

It was a spectacle that would surely move even the flintiest of hearts. Anybody who doubts the existence of community spirit in today's multi-media age would surely be eating their words in Newport on Thursday night.

Between 150 and 200 people turned out for a candlelit vigil in Farmers Gate for Cheryl Hooper, who was shot dead outside her home.

Cheryl, who worked at Lawley Dental Practice, had not lived in Farmers Gate for long. But the tragedy stirred the community to rally around, and an appeal fund has now been set up to raise funds for Cheryl's daughter Georgia, raising £3,000 in its first three days. And it has all been achieved with the help of social media.

The vigil, which was led by the Rev Zoe Heming, had been organised by neighbour Victoria Rayson, and promoted on Facebook. The two did not know each other well, but Victoria wanted to show her support, and like many of the Facebook generation, social media seemed the obvious place to do it.

"It's a new estate, but it's such a lovely community," she says.

"We're all so deeply shocked and saddened. We can only imagine what the family are going through.

"The amount of people who attended is testament to what a wonderful person Cheryl really was. Georgia is an absolute credit to her memory as is her wonderful family. I’ve never seen something so beautiful come out of such a tragedy and I was honoured to be a part of it."

The community also rallied round following the death of Telford teenager Christian Chandler, killed in October last year when his bike collided with a bus on his way to school. And once again, well-wishers turned to social media, raising more than £12,000 to cover the cost of the 13-year-old's funeral. The Defined Ridez car club took to Facebook to organise a drive through Telford in Christian's memory, with 186 car buffs each paying a £2 entry fee to support the fund.

The appeal, organised by Christian's uncle, Samuel Brooks, has also donated £1,000 to the Midlands Air Ambulance, which took him to hospital after the crash, and some of the money will go to his family.


Mr Brooks said he was touched by the level of public support.

“I’ve had people I don’t even know contact me out of the blue offering to help,” he said.

“There was a local lady whose career was in graphic design. She offered to create something beautiful for Christian’s order of service. "We’ve had a car club in Telford offer to have a convoy in memory of Christian.

“It’s been amazing, people we don’t know offering condolences and sharing their own stories.”


One of the best examples of how social media can be used to bring communities together came teenager Stephen Sutton, from Burntwood, near Cannock, who used Facebook and Twitter to chronicle his battle with terminal cancer.

His courageous, upbeat messages not only captured the heart of the nation, attracting the support of celebrities Jason Manford, Jonathan Ross and Jimmy Carr, but they also generated £3.2 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust by the time of his death. Manford was so moved by his campaign he donated £10,000 to the appeal, and as Stephen's condition became more serious he acted as his unofficial spokesman. More than 11,000 people turned out for a vigil at Lichfield Cathedral following his death at the age of 19 in May 2014, prompting the cathedral's dean to liken the level of public mourning to that for the Princess of Wales. Then prime minister David Cameron, who had met Stephen shortly before his death, paid tribute to his courage, as did Labour leader at the time Ed Miliband.

Stephen's campaign continues, and the to date more than £5 million has been raised for teenagers with the illness.

Another example was the Rupert's Revenge charity, which raised more than £250,000 towards the £750,000 cost of lifesaving treatment for Bridgnorth youngster Rupert Beckett. Sadly, Rupert, who had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of two, did not live long enough to receive the treatment, losing his battle with neuroblastoma last month. But the money will now be distributed among charities to help other youngsters who are suffering from the disease.

The power of social media in rallying the community was also evident following the death of young Telford boxer Dylan Brassington.

Dylan, who was a popular figure at Wellingtoni Boxing Academy, died aged 21 on January 2. The club set up an online fundraising page to pay for his funeral, which was promoted heavily on social media.

Former boxing champion Richie Woodhall, who lives in Telford and was president of Wellington Boxing Academy, roped in the support of world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who signed a pair of shorts and programme which raised £820 at auction last week.

The Dylan fund also encouraged several members of the local community to get in on the act, with Aled Davies, of Shawbirch, raising £500 towards the cause by having a full body wax. Friends Ricky Bailey, of Donnington, and Del Sheldon, of Stirchley, also raised funds by having their heads shaved, while Liam Allan and Toby Jorden had their legs waxed.

Social media has its detractors, sometimes justifiably so. But some of the fantastic tributes and fundraising efforts that have taken place in our area show how it can also be a powerful force for good.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.


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