South of the River – embrace the change


Compass-SouthHappy New Year to you all, I hope you had an enjoyable festive season.

I struggle with the New Year celebrations. 1 January seems little different to 31 December, the end of the year is surely just a milestone. Why do people get so excited? It’s the end of a chapter not the end of the book.

So as I pointed out 12 months ago, January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus had two faces, one looking forward and one looking back (I’m not going to make a Nick Clegg joke, but feel free to insert your own here).

I found myself doing just that in December. Looking forwards and backwards, not making a Nick Clegg joke. I’m a governor at New Bewerley Community School and we had to say goodbye to our headteacher, Patrick Wilkins and appoint a replacement. Appointing a headteacher is one of the most important decisions that you can take as a governor.

Schools rely on teamwork. The teaching staff, the support staff, the parent volunteers and not forgetting the children all contribute to make the school safe, friendly and a place that encourages learning. But every team needs a leader and the headteacher’s role is crucial.

I was on the panel that appointed Patrick, or Mr Wilkins as he is known in school, eight years ago when New Bewerley didn’t even have a name yet. He has led the school and put the governors stated ethos into practice. I was also there to receive his letter of resignation – he is moving on to lead two large primary schools in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

I was surprised but not unduly worried by Patrick’s resignation. Within school there were wobbles. People get very anxious about change. Several members of staff asked for assurances that we would appoint someone who would take up where Patrick left off – yes continue to raise standards, but not at the expense of New Bewerley’s inclusive ethos and partnership approach.

Without diminishing Patrick’s achievements in any way, I’m excited about our new headteacher. Gary, or Mr German as he will be known in school, brings different skills and enthusiasms. It’s a new chapter and New Bewerley will have new adventures.

South Leeds Life will also be starting a new chapter in 2014, we are planning to go into print.

Print might seem a backward step for an online news source (that’s us, by the way). The traditional press is rushing to try and sort out their online presence as their traditional print circulation tumbles. The truth is that like the paperless office, the end of print news is some way off yet.

In 2011-12 we had a partnership with Health For All. They published a quarterly magazine, we shared our name and some of our content. We publicised each other and it worked well for both organisations. South Leeds Life is bigger and stronger these days, so this time we will be going it alone.

The point of the print edition is to say “if you like this, go online and find new stories every day”. We have a digital divide in South Leeds with many families having no access to a computer at home. We need to reach those people, not just to keep them informed, but to offer them a bridge to get over that divide and into the online world.

I can’t tell you too much detail about our print edition yet as we are still very much in the planning stage. I think it’s pretty set that it will be a newspaper rather than a magazine and monthly rather than quarterly. As to a launch date, that’s tricky. I would like to think May or June should be possible, but like every building project I’ve ever known the timescale will probably slip.

It will be tabloid is size, but not philosophy. We won’t be changing our ethos so don’t expect The Sun. Remember it’s a new chapter, not a new book.

I’m looking forward to working with the HUGO (Helping yoU Get Online) project that Leeds Federated, BITMO and Housing Leeds kicked off in November. I’m also looking forward to New Bewerley working out how to loan laptops and iPads to children and their families and open up the school’s computers for community use.

Jeremy Morton Aug13I suppose I’m a bit of “change junkie”. It’s not that I like for change for change sake, I just think there must be room for improvement and we should look for new ways of doing things that work better. So my New Year message is embrace the change and look for the opportunities that it brings.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.