Bringing the country together has always been part of the responsibility of the BBC, director general Tony Hall writes.

In among all the tragedies of recent weeks, so many stories of kindness, resilience and hope have emerged.

The millions of people volunteering to look out for their neighbours and help those most in need. The cheers which resound around the country each week to express our collective gratitude to the NHS. The way the nation has been moved to support Captain Tom Moore’s incredible fundraising effort for NHS workers to the tune of over £27 million.

We might be separated by lockdown but in some ways stories like these make us feel closer together than ever. They show that even as people face huge personal pressures and challenges they are ready to help others through a sense of community and generosity.

Family sat together on sofa watching TV
“Bringing the country together has always been part of the responsibility of the BBC”

This is the spirit we want to celebrate with tonight’s Big Night In.

The Big Night In is a special, one-off live event on BBC One which will see our biggest charitable partners – BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief – joining forces for the very first time. It will be a star-studded evening of entertainment, but it will also celebrate and reward those going the extra mile to support their communities in troubled times.

Those who feel able to donate will have the opportunity to help people of all ages and backgrounds across the UK who will be significantly impacted by the crisis. Funds raised will provide timely and essential support to local charities, projects and programmes to help those who are most vulnerable and most in need.

The Big Night In is a sign of how determined we are to pull out all the stops to do our bit. We recognise the BBC has a special role for the UK and therefore a special responsibility at this time of national crisis.

Over the past few weeks we have been working hard to respond to the most urgent needs of the nation at this critical time. That meant reorganising our news output to keep audiences up-to-date with the latest, reliable information on the Coronavirus crisis. 

Our national and regional news bulletins are regularly seeing huge audiences tuning in. Our online Coronavirus features and explainers have been viewed tens of millions of times. Over 300,000 people have now contacted our BBC local radio Make A Difference helpline, as part of a campaign that connects those who need help with those who can provide it at community level.

We have also transformed our educational offer. This week, on the day schools would normally be returning after the Easter break, we launched our Bitesize Daily service. It means we can now support every child and every parent with curriculum-based learning every day.

Three million children took Bitesize Daily lessons in its first day. We’re working closely with trusted education providers, teachers and partners to help minimise disruption to children’s education and provide rhythm and routine through these challenging times.

But as well as informing and educating, we’re also working hard to keep audiences entertained. We know it’s important. We all need distraction and escapism.

It’s why shows such as Masterchef, The Repair Shop and Race Across the World are recording their highest-ever ratings. It’s why we launched Culture in Quarantine as a virtual festival of the arts. It’s why we’ve adapted programmes like Have I Got News For YouThe Graham Norton Show and The Mash Report to lockdown and why we’ve brought some of the nation’s favourite, most familiar shows back to iPlayer – which this week experienced its biggest-ever day.

I hope the Big Night In will bring the country together for a special night of television. Bringing the country together has always been part of the responsibility of the BBC. It’s our job to be the place everyone can come to share in the most important national moments – of celebration, commiseration or commemoration.

The whole country remains focused on getting through this crisis, while supporting each other and those workers on the front line to whom we owe so much.  But this feels like the right moment to celebrate how the British public are pulling together with a remarkable spirit of hope, kindness and community.

 Tony Hall is director general of the BBC.

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