South of the River – happy birthday to us


Compass-SouthComment logo 2“We don’t do it for fun, or to change the world.”

So said Paul Napier, a director at Johnston Press plc and former editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, at a meeting I was at last week. Hmmm. Well, here at South Leeds Towers I like to think we take things seriously, but still have fun along the way. As for trying to change the world – yes we do want to change it.

It’s three years since a group of us got together and launched a new blog about South Leeds. Now seems a good time to reflect on what the blog has achieved.

South Leeds Life’s first post set out a bit of a manifesto which I think we’ve mostly lived up to. It’s interesting to note the stories we thought we might cover in the first 12 months.

First up was the PFI-funded housing regeneration scheme in Holbeck and Beeston Hill. We wrote plenty of posts about hold ups and delays, but at last things are underway. The extension to the White Rose Centre – again delayed, some extra space has been created, the major cinema extension still awaits planning permission. A new Asda in Middleton – can you see a pattern developing? Now under construction and due to open in May 2014.

On a less happy note, we looked forward to reporting on the future of South Leeds Sports Centre. That story came to its sad conclusion in October this year.

Readership graph Nov13Our readership has grown steadily over the last three years as this graph shows. We now have 10,000 visitors to the site a month and 26,000 page views. If you look carefully it also shows something else. Our proudest day is marked by a spike in June 2012. What happened? The Olympic Torch came through South Leeds on its journey to London. We had eight community reporters out that morning taking photos and capturing the atmosphere.

We are not the BBC or the YEP and we don’t pretend to be. We offer a different type of coverage. We didn’t send out a team to cover the big story, it was much more organic. Our eight reporters would have been out on the route that morning and taking photos whether South Leeds Life existed or not. The blog gave them a platform to pool their images and a place for the community to come and see them.

The blog has changed over the last three years. We have added features such as the Events Calendar, which not untypically has 35 events listed this week. We’ve had makeovers and I suppose we are in the middle of a slow burn makeover at the moment. I think you’re suppose to sort it all out in the background first and then launch it all properly one day. We haven’t done that.

I could say we’ve taken an organic approach, I could use a word like “artisan” which seems to have become the new word for “wonky”. The truth is we’re just not very slick. But we do have a new logo and space for adverts – part of our plan to become sustainable for the long term.

We also have a Friends group, another strand of our financial plan. I was humbled by comments from one organisation this week saying how important South Leeds Life was for keeping them informed and helping them link their activities to others in the area. They also praised the integrity of our brand. They weren’t talking about our logo – they meant the way we do things.

Which brings me back to Mr Napier’s comments. He clearly sees his job as returning a profit to the shareholders. I would say and keeping staff in jobs, but that part of the strategy doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction at the moment. To do that he must sell newspapers, so he must print the stories that readers will buy – crime and football mostly.

That ends up giving a distorted image back to the city. Part of South Leeds Life motivation was, is, to counteract the negative image South Leeds has. To “tell the rest of the world how great South Leeds is” to quote our first post.

South Leeds Life is not The War Cry or Socialist Worker, but we do want to change the world. We want to encourage more people to be active in their community. To do that we try and tell you what’s going on, what opportunities for socialising, learning and yes, having fun. We try to tell you about the bigger decisions being taken that affect your life locally – such as planning new supermarkets or park and ride schemes so you can join the debate around those issues and have your say.

Jeremy Morton Aug13I think we’ve done quite well over the last three years. I’m looking forward to the next year. Hopefully we’ll be a little bit slicker, but more importantly we’ll have more writers reflecting more of the interesting and diverse voices of our amazing communities.

Oh I nearly forgot, we are planning to go into print next year …

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.