FROM male rape to suicide, surrogacy and grooming, Coronation Street has turned the talents of its team to some hefty subjects of late.

It’s easy to sneer at the soaps and to dismiss them as light entertainment but in doing so, their social significance and ability to bring about change is ignored.

Watched by millions, shows like Coronation Street and EastEnders are hugely influential, wielding a power that often goes unseen.

The UK loves its soaps, which are beamed into family homes several times a week, carrying with them a plethora of issues, representations and conversations, the familiar faces of characters we come to know bringing messages to the masses almost through osmosis.

Their effect is so effortlessly influential that it goes without question that boundaries blur, that people will wear Free Deirdre t-shirts, grieve for murdered characters and share the trials and tribulations of favourite characters as though they were friends.

Pop culture can change culture, influence what and who we talk about, how we talk about them and what we think of them. Soap operas must be built on a platform of responsibility because they have the power to exploit, to manipulate thoughts and perceptions.Tasked with mirroring society and its inhabitants, they are proof that representation matters.

The more something is made visible, the more an image is repeated, the more it becomes fixed in the mind and the more it therefore becomes understood – or misunderstood depending on how responsibly a representation is crafted. Every portrayal created can be unpacked to reveal a composite of experiences, assumptions, stereotypes, good research and bad.

In recent months, Coronation Street has carefully used its characters to shine a spotlight on several underrepresented issues. Debates may rage about the suitability of using a soap as a vehicle for serious matters but even within those debates, a space is carved out for often taboo topics to be spoken of, where stereotypes can be challenged and experiences shared.

When David Platt was raped, calls to a male rape helpline soared nationally by 1,700 per cent. This week, viewers will watch the family of Aiden Connor struggle to come to terms with his sudden death in a plot that is already working to highlight the crisis of male suicide, the biggest killer of men under-45 in the UK. Charities and families work tirelessly to raise awareness of this issue but they cannot easily reach into as many homes as the nation’s longest-running soap can.

Because of Coronation Street, the issue has been thrust firmly into the limelight, occupying more column inches and conversations this month than in as long as I can remember. The awareness raising the Corrie team is attempting is incredibly important – it’s also making a difference.

Done poorly, representation can have wide-reaching effects, as the restricting, damaging nature of racist caricatures and sexist tropes demonstrate all too well. But done well, it can change minds positively and alter perception to influence cultural shifts. It can create talking points, raise questions bring down barriers and smash stigma to pieces.