What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Reimagining town centres

deserted high street

I’ve been an interested follower of the debate around town centres since the Portas review of last year, not least because I live close by to a small town, and indeed it’s one where a debate is raging about the future and sustainability of the town centre as a place for people to visit, and to buy stuff.

The town in question is Spalding, and right now there is quite a heated debate going on in the local press about two development ideas – one for a regeneration of an in-town-but-exactly-the-town-centre retail area, and the other proposing a big supermarket and retail park on the outskirts of town, but which might generate some section 106 money etc to help with other work.

As you can see from this article on the local newspaper’s website, the topic is one that has inflamed local public opinion and it’s interesting to see people coming together to use an online platform to debate the issues.

I can’t help but feel that the debate here is missing the point. I very much enjoy reading Julian Dobson’s blog, and his group’s submission to the Portas review, The 21st Century Agora (PDF warning) makes some very interesting points that really chime with me.

It reads:

High streets and town centres that are fit for the 21st century need to be multifunctional social centres, not simply competitors for stretched consumers. They must offer irresistible opportunities and experiences that do not exist elsewhere, are rooted in the interests and needs of local people, and will meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.

In other words, the town centre shouldn’t be based just on buying stuff. We need other reasons for people to visit the town.

What sort of things? Julian’s presentation below highlights some of them (apologies if your firewall means you can’t see them):

Town centres ought to be places where people meet, work, consume culture, share ideas, get things done – not just shop!

Whither the internet in all this? It’s a view that the web, and the sheer efficiency of shopping online is one of the things that’s drawing the commercial elements away from the town centre.

The Portas review did mention the use of the web to create an ongoing sense of community and conversation about a town centre. This has been picked up by Sarah Hartley from Talk About Local (she does wear other hats) in a number of posts, including a dead handy list of ways that online communities could help reverse the decline in high streets.

If you’re interested in this stuff, Julian and co have started up an online community, using the Ning platform, and are organising an open space event to discuss the issues. Am hoping to be involved as much as I can.

Picture credit: ambernectar on Flickr

Networked Neighbourhoods: effective localism or narrow insularity?

My friends at LGIU, The Hansard Society and Networked Neighbourhoods are running a free event next month in London that looks dead good:

Wednesday 19 October, 18.30 – 20.00

Thatcher Room, Portculis house, Westminster

LGiU, Networked Neighbourhoods and the Hansard Society are putting on a free event in Parliament on Weds 19th Oct.

We will be exploring the ‘relocalisation’ of the web and debating whether hyperlocal and community websites a vital democratic tool or if they lead to insularity out of step with an increasingly globalised world?


  • Jonathan Carr-West – Local Government Information Unit
  • Natasha Innocent – Director of Community Partnerships, Race Online
  • Kerry McCarthy MP
  • Hugh Flouch – Networked Neighbourhoods


  • Dr Andy Williamson – Independent digital strategist

Jonathan and Hugh will also discuss some of the early findings from the ‘Residents Online’ research project. If you are a Councillor or council officer and would like to take part in the survey, more information can be found here.


To register, please email hans_admin@hansard.lse.ac.uk, or book online or phone 020 7438 1216.

Local TV

I think it’s fair to say that DCMS’s plans for Local TV are mostly terrible.

Luckily, people who know a lot more about it that I do are writing it all up. I enjoyed these three posts on the LSE blog on the subject, all by Sally Broughton Micova.

They are well worth reading for anyone interested in local media.

Local TV Part 1: A Tale of Two Cities

The DCMS’s framework document states that “market experience suggests that small standalone local TV stations can struggle to develop s sustainable business model”. However, the Government’s plan is to issue individual local licenses and then leave it up to the market to determine if local stations give it a go alone or come together in a network. This means anyone interested in opening local television and broadcasting through DTT in Birmingham will have to individually negotiate with whoever might be interested in Hereford, Grimsby, or any of the other 60 plus locations. News Corporation, which owns a large number of local TV stations in the US and controls two of those in Birmingham Alabama, has other problems at the moment, so it seems unlikely it will be interested in applying for a multitude of individual local licenses in the UK. It is not clear how a backbone of sufficient size and capacity to adequately support local TV across the UK will spontaneously emerge from the negotiations of a few enthusiastic local parties.

Local TV Part 2: Great Expectations

One of the ways the Government’s plan intends to provide financial support to local TV is by having the BBC spend up to £5 million annually for 3 years to buy content from local stations. At the local TV summit Hunt also suggested that local TV will be selling content to other national stations. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, £5 million divided among several stations will amount to very little in relation to the budgets required to make high quality content. Secondly, local stations will have to produce content that national stations will want to buy. Consider the plea from Shameless’ Paul Abbott for British producers and commissioners to try making television drama at a cheaper cost of only £500,000 per episode. Or, that national stations in the UK are currently spending their budgets procuring high quality production from independent producers and hit series from the US.

Local TV Part 3: Don’t start linear

The proposal, to use the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform and create linear television stations across the UK, is already old fashioned enough. It is admirable to invest in local media, but new technology allows more innovative and more sustainable ways of doing it. Putting local TV onto DTT multiplexes (MUXs), even in a first stage as the Government proposes, is an unnecessary investment, and one that sets local television off on the wrong foot in terms of both sustainability and purpose.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Localism needs bespoke, not scale

David Wilcox does his usual excellent summarising and commenting job on the latest snafu involving BIG Lottery funding and the internet.

It’s all about a grant of £1.89 million to the Media Trust, to fund the establishment of “connected news hubs around the UK to support citizen journalism and to help communities and charities get their voices heard”.

Hmmmm. I’ve said many a time before that the future of journalism debate is one of the most boring in the world – certainly one of the least relevant to actual people with proper lives with real things to worry about.

So the use of the word journalism in this project concerns me – it brings to the table assumptions and values which I’m not sure belong in this context.

This follows a grant of £830k under the People Powered Change programme to Your Square Mile to develop a network of local community websites. It’s described as a “digital one stop shop” – excellent!

Excuse my sneering, but 1999 is calling and it wants its slogans back.

David writes in his analysis:

The issue is perhaps not so much why the Media Trust got the funding, but why Big Lottery didn’t spend some time exploring the difference between citizen journalism, community reporting, and hyperlocal media. Or if they did, could we please see the report? That would be transparency.

One thing that is becoming clear is that communities come before websites. That is to say, the motivation for starting a community web project must come from the community first and not a solution being imposed from elsewhere. It’s been tried countless times and doesn’t work.

The experts in the field, such as the Talk About Local guys totally get this, which is why their nationally-focused solution takes the lead from local need, and is platform neutral. No one size fits all model there, and rightly so.

It’s also why social media surgeries work so well. Nobody there has a service to push – the ‘surgeons’ listen to people’s problems, or what they want to achieve, and they advise on the quickest, cheapest solution.

There is often an assumption that a centre of power must always fill a vacuum. In this case, there is no doubt that local communities organising themselves online can benefit both those communities and the local council, if it chooses to listen.

That doesn’t mean however, that the council should be the provider or indeed the instigator of the websites. Far better to bring in a third party, who understands this stuff and who will advise the different communities what the best solution is for them – not develop a single platform and assume it will work for everyone.

Likewise with these big national programmes. What if the Your Square Mile product isn’t what communities want? What if the MediaTrust’s understanding of a ‘connected news hub’ (actually, does anyone have an understanding of what one of those is?) doesn’t match anyone else’s?

The point of localism is that different communities have different needs, which means they need different tools and solutions. Yet still ‘scalable’ single solutions get funded. But of course you can’t scale bespoke, even though bespoke is what is needed here.