Joshua Stokes, a journalist based on the Isle of Man, has been honored with a Royal Television Society Award.

Working at Granada Reports ITV, Stokes received the prestigious 'Emerging Young Talent of the Year' award at the Journalism Awards 2024.

His nomination stemmed from his impactful documentary titled 'Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster,' which delved into the 50th anniversary of the tragic fire at the leisure center.

The blaze claimed the lives of 50 individuals and left around 80 injured.

In the 45-minute documentary Mr Stokes looked at the creation of Summerland, why it was so popular amongst locals and tourists alike and how one night in August 1973 went so dramatically wrong.

Speaking to survivors, firemen on shift, policemen investigating the cause of the fire and people generally affected by the Summerland disaster, Stokes went back in time to understand how the fire started, and how it was deemed as ‘death by misadventure’ for those unfortunate enough not to make it out of the leisure centre.

It showed the story and bravery of Jackie Hallam, who lost her best friend and mother in the fire.

After pushing the Isle of Man Government, she (and many others) got a much-needed apology for the way the aftermath of Summerland was handled on the island, but reiterated that the fight goes on.

Isle of Man Today spoke to ITV Journalist and Isle of Man resident Josh Stokes to find out how the ITVX documentary came about and why he worked so hard to tell Jackie Hallam’s story, and many others.

'Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster' documentary with Joshua Stokes
'Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster' documentary with Joshua Stokes (ITVX)

Q: What inspired the Summerland report and how important was survivor Jacqueline Hallam in giving the coverage the poignance it had? 

A: ‘After moving to the Isle of Man in 2019, I became aware of the unused site at the end of the Promenade, and I can actually see it from my window at my flat.

‘But it was only when I began talking to people who were directly involved with the disaster, when I realised the true horror of what happened there.

‘I couldn’t quite believe it at first - there lies an unused site where over half a century ago 50 people lost their lives in a devastating fire - how did the fire start? Who was responsible? And above all, why is it not something widely known by people today?

‘Those were the questions I was asking myself as a journalist. After doing some more research and digging a little deeper, we soon found that there was also this overwhelming sense of injustice from those who lost loved ones.

‘It was Jackie Hallam's story that really alerted people to the shock and scale of what happened that night, and after our initial 45-minute interview, it became clear how silenced she had felt in the years that came before.

‘Angered by the fact her mother and best friend had been given a ‘death by misadventure’ verdict, alongside the 48 others who died - a verdict that implies the individual is to blame for their own death.

‘So these were stories that had never really been explored before, certainly not on this scale of coverage.

‘So it was really important for us to take this opportunity around the 50th anniversary to give this disaster the coverage it deserves, to make sure those 50 people who lost their lives at Summerland are rightfully remembered.

‘In terms of our coverage, we actually only initially set out to do a few news pieces on Granada Reports leading up to August last year, and ending in a live broadcast from the site on the day of the 50th anniversary. It was only after hearing the incredible accounts from survivors that we then decided - there’s got to be more we can do here - thinking this has the making of a documentary. And because ITV News has that presence on our ITVX platform, we were able to make that documentary a reality. Allowing us to really delve into the story far more than we did on Granada Reports.’

Q: Did you expect to collect an accolade for the Summerland report?  A: ‘At no point did I expect to receive any sort of accolade for our coverage.

‘When working on a story like this, which is largely unknown to people living in the Granada Reports region, you never quite know how it's going to land with our audience.

‘We knew from the start that this was an important story to tell, and one that lacked coverage, but whether it would have any sort of profound effect is always unknown.

‘Those who had contributed with their stories were very grateful for the coverage, and that was enough for me to know that we were doing what's right by those who had felt forgotten.

‘So when I was told it has been nominated for a national Royal Television Society award, that was a real shock, but also a realisation that the story had been noticed beyond our regional audience. And it sounds cliché, but it really was an award in itself for our work on the Summerland story to be recognised in this way, and a rarity for the Isle of Man.

‘The national RTS awards are seen as the 'gold standard' in our industry, so to have that recognition is a total honour.’

Josh Stokes after winning the Emerging Young Talent of the Year award at the Royal Television Society Journalism Awards 2024.
Josh Stokes after winning the Emerging Young Talent of the Year award at the Royal Television Society Journalism Awards 2024. (RTS)

Q: When initially arriving on the island, and now here for some time, just how important is remembering a disaster like Summerland? A: ‘You only have to look at those who are still affected by the fire today, to know how important it is that the Summerland story is given proper coverage.

‘The sense of loss that some of those we spoke with continued to feel was heartbreaking, and many had come to terms with the idea that this was a forgotten disaster.

‘For some, it was in many ways a great relief to share their story in this way, saying they had finally felt listened to. As many of those who were at Summerland were from the north of England, it was important for us as regional journalists to spend time hearing from those outside the Isle of Man - an integral part of the story that had arguably been overlooked by island journalists in the years that came before.

‘It was there that we learned of the continued sense of injustice felt by some who had felt abandoned for so long. To give those people a voice was our main aim for the coverage, giving the disaster a fresh perspective as 'the forgotten disaster' was a title aimed not at people in the Isle of Man, but those in the UK - many of which were completely unaware of the horrors of that night in 1973.’

Q: And finally, can we expect any other coverage of this magnitude from yourself in the not too distant future?

A: ‘I’m very fortunate in that within my role I’ve been given the flexibility to work in a variety of settings.

‘So I was called in to help the national team during the coverage of the Queen’s funeral, and I was working on the Ukraine unit from London in the first few weeks of Russia’s invasion.

‘I also occasionally work on pieces for ITV Channel, and the wider Granada Reports region.

‘As for the Isle of Man, it is somewhere I have grown very fond of over the past five years. And, for now at least, I have a few more Manx projects I’m working on - including covering any future updates on the Summerland campaign which will continue as the year goes on.

‘I think the Summerland story is a great example of why it’s so important that communities like those here in the Isle of Man are not overlooked - so stories are not missed, and people are not forgotten - and this award by no means marks the end of the Summerland story.’