Like all soaps, Hollyoaks isn’t afraid to explore difficult subjects to raise awareness and help viewers understand tricky topics through the eyes of their favourite characters.
But the Channel 4 show doesn’t just sneak in some worthy life lessons while entertaining us at teatime, it has a rich history of actually making a difference in the real world, with a commendable record of thoroughly-researched storylines that made viewers – and even the government – sit up and challenge the way they thought.
As the show embarks on its latest hard-hitting storyline focusing on homelessness among young people with Peri Lomax’s experience of living on the streets, we take a look back at 6 times Hollyoaks managed to change the world…
1. Domestic abuse
Patrick Blake’s psychological manipulation and physical abuse of his wife Maxine (before she was Mrs Donovan) reduced the strong, fun-loving feisty lass to a frightened shell of a woman with his violence and calculating mind games.
Hollyoaks partnered with the Home Office’s high-profile campaign This Is Abuse highlighting domestic violence, with specially filmed additional scenes showing on YouTube receiving 1.3 million views.
Nikki Sanderson was also contacted by many women who said her character’s plight inspired them to leave their abusive partners after watching the storyline.
2. Male rape
Corrie are to be commended for tackling male rape with David Platt’s current plot, but arguably if it wasn’t for Hollyoaks taking on the challenge of becoming the first soap to explore the sensitive subject back in 2000, it wouldn’t be happening.
The groundbreaking late-night episode featuring Luke Morgan’s sexual assault was a major talking point. The show approached the topic again in 2014, this time in the regular 6.30pm slot, when teacher John Paul McQueen was raped by teenage pupil Finn O’Connor.
Support charity Survivors Manchester, who consulted on the scripts, called the 91% rise in visitors to their website at the time of the storyline ‘the Hollyoaks effect’. The reaction was so strong it led to the Ministry of Justice providing £500,000 funding for victims of male rape.
3. Bullying and attempted suicide
Showing the devastating effect bullying can have, schoolgirl Esther Bloom was driven to attempt suicide after enduring months of torment from her cruel classmates.
The powerful impact it had in showing the consequences of the attempt were regarded as so informative that it led to the government’s Chief Medical Officer mentioning the storyline in their 2013 annual report as a case study of how to portray suicide in the media. Hollyoaks bosses were praised for their careful handling of Esther’s plight and for teaming up with the Samaritans to provide online support around the episodes.
PAPYRUS, the national charity dedicated to preventing young suicides, also saw a substantial increase in calls to its helpline service after the episodes aired.
With an eye always on the issues affecting its young audience, Hollyoaks won acclaim in 2013 when Holly Cunningham was pressured into taking provocative pictures of herself on her phone and sending them to her boyfriend Jason Roscoe, only to be humiliated when the images went public.
Working with the NSPCC and Childline to raise awareness on ‘sexting’ among youngsters, a special video featuring the actors involved in the storyline discussing the subject was shown in over 1,000 secondary schools to educate teens on the topic.
The campaign also inspired the Zippit app, providing humorous replies and GIFs to send in response to unwanted advances via text messages.
5. Soap’s first trans cast member
Annie Wallace was the real life inspiration for Corrie icon Hayley Cropper, the first transgender character in British soap back in 1998. Then in 2015, Wallace became the first trans actor to become a soap regular as a trans character when she joined Hollyoaks as head teacher Sally St Claire.
When Sally came out and admitted her feelings for flatmate Neeta Kaur, she also became the first gay trans character in soap, and Wallace’s nomination for best actress at the Scottish BAFTAs in 2016 made her the first transgender actress ever to be nominated for a BAFTA.
6. Mental health awareness
Hollyoaks is showing an ongoing commitment to covering stories about mental health among young people with its #DontFilterFeelings campaign. 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 16 are experiencing a mental health problem, and half of all mental health problems have been established by the age of 14.
Hollyoaks‘ work on the topic saw producers and cast invited to attend a meeting at the Houses of Parliament, no less, in January to discuss challenging stigma on the subject with MPs and representatives from the media.
Scott Drinkwell’s depression, Lily Drinkwell’s self-harm and Alfie Nightingale’s upcoming struggle with schizoaffective disorder were all held up as ways soaps can inform a young audience more effectively than watching the news.
Digital Spy Soap Scoop video – hit play below for all the latest Hollyoaks spoilers, as the truth about Peri is finally revealed, and Luke and Mandy’s marriage runs into more problems.
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