David and Jack giving out free cake

Give it up? Give it out!

Former TV producer and writer Debbie Wright explains how she is ‘reinventing Lent’ and why nearly 50,000 people agree with her.

A few years ago I started working for Stewardship, the Christian giving charity, with the grand title of  ‘Head of Content’ and pretty much a blank piece of paper. I started roughly around this time of year, post Christmas. Easter was on the horizon and the beginning of Lent.

I have always had a slightly uneasy relationship with Lent. My children and Christian friends would start talking about ‘giving something up,’ like alcohol, coffee or chocolate, all extremely well meaning, but I was never sure exactly why. It felt more like a health kick to me. Yes, it shows self discipline, but does it also show levels of negativity, creating a set of rules and worse – self satisfaction and a degree of smugness?

In one of those ‘in the shower moments,’ I thought rather than giving something up, why don’t we create a resource to help people give something out? Yes, still give up that daily chocolate bar, but why not save the money and at the end of Lent, donate to a cause you are passionate about. For each of the 40 days carry out a simple act of generosity to your neighbour, friend, work colleague and complete stranger! And so in 2011, 40acts was born. In a nutshell the idea is to do something generous for each day of Lent. Once signed up, you receive 40 emails, one for each day of Lent, with a short reflection and a generosity challenge. This year 40acts turns 5 and the passion to create a movement of generosity throughout Lent hasn’t waned.

Last year the response overwhelmed us with nearly 50,000 people signing up and actively taking part in the campaign. In the past, communication was pretty much all one way. I would produce a TV documentary series, maybe have a launch, issue a press release, and then sit back and hope for some good reviews. Now, we create content for a whole number of different platforms and rather than a one way experience, viewers, followers and supporters come back with feedback both positive and negative, sharing experiences, ideas, passions and successes. For the team, 40acts literally takes over our lives. One of my favourite stories from last year came on day 27, the challenge was called Over The Top. Here are the tweets which share exactly what 40acts is all about!

First tweet:

Announcement of free chocolate in carriage C of 17.03 Kings cross to Leeds met with applause! Loads of smiles #40acts @eastcoastuk

Followed by:

Just had a text from a friend on a train, fellow passenger just bought whole carriage a choc bar for #40acts #OTT #spreadthegenerosity

You can join the movement starting on 18th February at: 40acts.org.uk

Paul Arnold