4 May 2012

Star Wars Day ~ Dorset Troopers feature

May the 4th be with you! Today is Star Wars Day, and to commemorate, I have had published a feature on the Star Wars themed voluntary group, Dorset Troopers, who
I photographed and interviewed at Pokesdown's Valentines Fayre back in February.

Dorset Troopers at Pokesdown Valentines Fayre.
The published version of my feature can be found in the Daily Echo newspaper, in which it has been sub-edited half to death, and includes a byline of "Troy Kent". How the names Troy and Joseph look or even sound alike is beyond me. I was pleasantly amused by my coursemate's response on Twitter (@OscarTollast): "If I was a sub-editor with a sense of humour, I'd at least change your first name to 'Clark'."

The original and full version, however, can be found beneath the below image, plus a page layout in the design of Telegraph Magazine, which I created as part of my final 2nd-year university assignment. This feature includes quotes from Dorset Troopers, PDSA pet chairity, and Julia's House children's hospice.

New journalistic alias, perhaps? Misspelt byline in the Bournemouth Daily Echo.

A new hope for charity

A looming figure with undisputed power; his face shielded behind a black mask.
An entourage of men in white armour accompany his every stride. Their resolve
is unwavering, their mission is unchallenged.

Yet this contingent of the Galactic Empire has no interest in dominating our precious Milky Way. Rather their mission is quite the opposite – to aid those in need on Planet Earth. You don't need a Jedi to tell you that these are the Troopers you are looking for.

Founded six years ago, Dorset Troopers are a Star Wars themed group dedicated to helping others. They may not possess the power of The Force, but their compassion and benevolent spirit has helped them raise thousands of pounds for both local and national charities. It is a prime example of how the popular science fiction franchise need not always have a dark side.

It's all voluntary,” says Dorset Troopers chairman Terry Welch, suited and booted in the full body armour of a Republic Commando. “None of the expenses are taken out at all, everyone travels to the group purely under their own steam, and all the costumes are bought by ourselves. Everything we raise for charity goes to the charity.”

He and his comrades – two Scout Troopers, a Stormtrooper, and even the Sith Lord himself, Darth Vader – pace along the Pokesdown high street as if it were an everyday occurrence. Now and then, they are stopped by fascinated residents and shoppers to
pose for photos. Traffic slows as drivers take a second to glimpse at the remarkable
scene through their passenger windows.

Yet it is hardly surprising. Their costumes – five among dozens they and the other 14 Troopers own – are impressive pieces of paraphernalia, as if they had stepped out from the Star Wars movies themselves. So much so, it's easy to forget there are in fact real people behind the Troopers' visors. One passer-by comments, “You're not sure how to interact with them; you can't see their eyes.”

But after removing his helmet, it is clear to see that Terry Welch is like any other man, albeit one with a kind heart and a passion for Star Wars – two attributes which together have allowed him and his fellow Troopers to bring smiles to hundreds of faces.

I wasn't that big a Star Wars fan, not as big as some of the guys. Some of the Stormtroopers are mad for it. They only bought their suits to put on a mannequin in their lounge. But when they saw us, they thought, oh, I'll get it off and put in on myself. But I am a big Star Wars fan myself.

However, the same passion for science fiction is not shared by all members. Although Star Wars plays a vital role in the group's conception, the underlying mission for these Dorset Troopers is to aid charities by raising money and awareness.

The guy who does Vader, he's not a big Star Wars fan, but he does it because of the reasons. One of our guys has got a disabled little girl, and because he gets his girl treated, he would like to give something back.

Dorset Troopers have worked with a number of charitable organisations, including pet charity PDSA, Teenage Cancer Trust, and four years with the NSPCC. They are presently aiding Dorset based children's hospice, Julia's House.

We know so far they have raised £1,400 to £1,500,” says Judith Charmer, a community fundraiser at Julia's House. “They are such fantastic support and an amazing bunch of professionals. They are just so lovely. And they really enjoyed coming to the hospice
and having a look around.

During a recent fundraising appointment at Bournemouth's Castlepoint Shopping Centre, Dorset Troopers helped PDSA collect a hundred pounds in less than three hours.

It's great that they're helping out; in these current times, it's hard to get support,” says PDSA charity worker Ben McCarthy. As soon as they turned up, our intake doubled. People won't come over and donate without an incentive or a smile. They're very useful, although it does ruin Darth Vader's image.

Thankfully however, the new Lord Vader and his entourage of Stormtroopers are the bighearted type, keen on blowing up smiles, rather than blowing up planets.

We like the grass troops, where we meet normal people, people with children that can't afford to go to conventions,” says Terry's wife and Dorset Troopers treasurer, Debbie Welch, “where the mum will bring them all down to meet Darth Vader, rather than taking them somewhere really expensive.

We're firm believers that Star Wars is for everybody, not just for people that can afford it. And which is why we only charge a pound a photo, which is a donation, and we'll print it for you there and then.

We like to stick within the community,” continues Terry. “There are loads of groups out there all going to the sci-fi conventions and the comic-cons, but we'll bring it to you instead of you going to it. We don't mind turning up the tiniest little school and putting a smile on five kids' faces.

We went to the Sovereign Centre in Boscombe with Titan the Robot, and afterwards a parent contacted us to say, 'My kid saw you for the first time yesterday, and he hasn't stopped smiling since.' And that's what we love. If we can make one child happy a day, that's good enough for us.

Sometimes it's too cold, sometimes it hurts, sometimes you're boiling hot, but all of us have been kids and we love doing it. What better excuse is there to dress up as a Stormtrooper and do some good?

(For more information on Dorset Troopers, see dorsettroopers.weebly.com)

Above: Telegraph Magazine page layout (right click, select "Fullscreen")
Below: Bournemouth Daily Echo printed article, Friday 4th May 2012

Despite the heavy sub-editing and byline error, I am very happy my feature
made it to print on Star Wars Day. Thank you, Bournemouth Echo!

1 comment:

  1. ahhaha I absolutely love this post!! Did you hear on radio one this morning about the joke they were making, trying to get "star trek day" trending on twitter


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