A few us from South Leeds Life went up to Middlesbrough last Saturday to something called the Talk About Local un-conference, or in the language of Twitter #TAL13.
Let’s unpick that a bit. Talk About Local (TAL) is an excellent organisation that supports “hyperlocal” blogs to get established and thrive. TAL has supported South Leeds Life, albeit indirectly throughout our three-year existence. Finding their website, reading their blog, and attending their un-conferences inspired us to start, gave us ideas along the way and helped us keep going when it seemed more like a slog than a blog.
Hyperlocal? Well South Leeds Life is a hyperlocal blog. We cover two postcodes – LS10 and LS11. Some are bigger, some are smaller, but all are guided by how their community interprets the local geography. So for example, we wouldn’t try to cover LS11 and LS12. Lovely though Armley is it doesn’t naturally fit with Beeston and Holbeck in the way that Hunslet and Middleton do. Up on the North York Moors the Kirkby Moorside Town Blog just covers the town, rather than trying to cover the whole of their sprawling YO62 postcode.
Un-conference is a clunky word that hints of trendy right-on-ness. In fact it was an excellent process. Instead of one or two people devising a rigid conference agenda and booking speakers (and their PowerPoint presentations), the people who come to the event set the agenda on the day and provide the speakers. I say provide the speakers – there are no long speeches and there is no “death by PowerPoint”.
If there’s something you want to have discussed you quickly pitch the subject, the delegates vote on which subjects they are interested in discussing and an agenda is cobbled together on post-it notes and flipchart paper. It’s a process that could go spectacularly wrong and take up most of the morning session, but in Will and Sarah’s capable hands we did it in about ten minutes.
I went to sessions on running local history projects and understanding the “assets” you have and need to run your blog. I also went to a session on financial sustainability which was a theme that permeated the day.
The event had a very friendly feel, everyone seemed very willing to share their experience and learn from others. In part this is because as hyperlocals we are not in completion with each other, we each have our own little geography. I think it’s also about another element of the hyperlocal ethos – a desire to support and encourage community life.
That’s certainly one of South Leeds Life’s aims. And if that sounds a bit Big Society, just remember that Dave stole that idea and twisted it.
So was this a movement meeting in Middlesbrough? Well yes and no. What is lovely is that every blog has its own story. I suspect that the phrase “fed up with the local paper” crops up in many of them, there’s a good dose of the hippy or punk ethos (take your choice) of do-it-yourself and often a driving force of one or two people holding the thing together. The more successful blogs have pulled in a wider group of writers and other volunteers. All of them are clearly rooted in their own community. Just as every community is different, every blog is different.
So you’ll be dying to know, are hyperlocal blogs financially sustainable? Two things are clear, lots of blogs are still here and still developing, in SE1’s case for fifteen years. Some provide an income, but no one is making their fortune by running a hyperlocal blog.
South Leeds Life’s strategy of developing advertising, applying for grants and getting donations from our readers is far from unique. By the way we hope to have exciting news on all three fronts in the next few weeks, so as they say “watch this space”.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but I came away from Middlesbrough re-energised. It was great to meet so many people who are on the same wavelength, to find out that others have been through the same problems you face and to hear of different solutions. I don’t know when or where #TAL14 will be, but put me down for an earlybird ticket please.
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.