The future’s hyperlocal – does Charlton need a champion?
I went to the London Neighbourhoods Online “unconference” in Southwark at the weekend – a chance for a whole group of people who run locally-focused websites like this one to chew the fat, swap ideas, and look at the challenges and opportunities ahead. I could only hang around for the morning, but it was good to put a few faces to names and meet some other people, and to discuss the attitudes of local authorities and local “old” media to the upstarts that are currently springing up. Should local websites have a voice and be subjective, or stay cool and objective? That kind of thing. Onionbagblog and Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich have more if you’re interested in what went on.
One thing that did strike me was the difference between north and south London sites – many north of the Thames sites like Harringay Online, StroudGreen.org and King’s Cross Environment tend to be multi-authored, more conscious ways of trying to serve a local community. But south of the river, it’s tended to be lone operators who blogged for fun and found themselves covering more local issues as they went on. The little informal network that’s built up between SE London bloggers has been invaluable in what’s essentially a desert for informed local news coverage and discussion.
Not that this site is scrupulously neutral – but at least you know where I’m coming from and that there’s limits to what one slightly bored not-so-young man can do.
All of which activity made me think about my own neck of the woods. 853′s hyperlocal in the sense that it covers an area smaller than most other outlets, but the area it focuses on is pretty big – roughly Charlton, Blackheath and Greenwich – whereas true hyperlocals cover tightly-defined areas. Greenwich has its own hyperlocal site and a hyperlocal podcast, plus the Phantom, while Blackheath has the Bugle. Not forgetting the Kidbrooke Kite, Adam’s new project.
But what about Charlton?
I’ve done bits – but I’ve tended to shy away from doing too much Charlton stuff for fear of being boring (news on your doorstep isn’t always news to all, and it’s easier to gripe about what you see every day) and also because the SE7 stuff doesn’t seem to pull in much feedback. And also because… well, not a lot happens here, really. I generally look west because that’s where most stuff happens.
Or does it? Charlton is always going to suffer for being neither one nor the other; stuck between Greenwich and Woolwich and generally ignored. But there’s still issues to be dealt with – flytipping and rubbish, gangs of kids hanging around near Charlton station, cars speeding down rat runs, and a general lack of pride in the area. There’s no real forum for locals to express and share concerns, and neither the police nor local councillors ever make their presence felt beyond the odd meetings of residents’ groups which people outside them have little idea about.
But there’s also wonderful upsides to living in SE7 that I’ve come to appreciate in the 11 years I’ve been here. The parks are (mostly) great, with Maryon Park in line for a long-overdue spruce-up. Charlton House and its gardens are under-appreciated gems, while St Luke’s Church is a reminder that Charlton is a proper village. Southeastern’s “screw you” attitude to passengers aside, the train service (when it works) is rather good. The buzz of a matchday still excites me. We have the kind of industrial waterfront that’s been destroyed in Greenwich and Woolwich, and we have the best secret riverside pub in London – the Anchor and Hope.
So, how about a blog for Charlton? The core of SE7 is a fairly well-defined area, so there’s not so much chance of overlapping into other territory. One thing I’d like to do is to bring the local representatives out of their shells a little, and give them a space in which to do it. It’s worked with Brockley Central – which is even being asked by police to help with enquires – although Lewisham’s political culture is much less secretive than Greenwich. Frankly, though, we won’t make this place better if we don’t talk about it.
But I don’t want to do this alone. In fact, I can’t, because I don’t want the site to be too ranty and subjective (and I don’t have to the time). I’ve had some minor successes in trying to get my own street swept, and trying to make sure my street isn’t strewn with wheelie bins every Monday (both a bit hit-and-miss, really), but somewhere where we can share tips and advice on little matters like that would be handy.
So if you live in Charlton, read this site and think I’m missing loads of things – then I’d love you to contribute to a site that’d take a different approach to this one. With a bit of effort, we could come up with something special. I’ve got a few ideas about how to go about it – so if you’re up for contributing something about the area in which you live, and about the joys and pains of life in SE7, please drop me an e-mail or leave a comment below, and let’s talk.