Stuart Williams created The Bloxidge Tallygraph for the Bloxwich area in Walsall, West Midlands way back in 2006 using Webs.com. A photographer and local historian, Stuart intially evisaged The Bloxidge Tallygraph as being a local heritage and history website but in his own words, ‘It hasn’t quite worked out like that.’ The Bloxidge Tallygraph soon evolved into acomprehensive community website that gives in-depth coverage and features on local history, events, businesses, environmental issues, etc.
Stuart is the fifth hyperlocal website manager to answer Ten Questions. Also check out Paul Bradshaw’s ‘Hyperlocal Voices’ at Online Journalism ‐ a series of interviews with leading local bloggers.
What made you start The Bloxidge Tallygraph?
There hadn’t been a detailed book on the history of the village of Bloxwich, where I live (it’s on the northern semi-rural border of Walsall Metropolitan Borough) since 1955. There was little or nothing on the web so as a Bloxwich lad born and bred, a professional photographer, writer and local historian, I thought I’d pay back something into the community by setting up what would be mostly a local history/heritage site.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that, as since taking on the official photography and online publicity of the local carnival in 2006, it’s grown like topsy to include all kinds of community features and it’s taken a lot more work than I expected as a result. But it’s fun – it had better be!
What do you feel the key local issues are for your community and how have you used your website to address these?
Being what is now quite a small part of Walsall Metropolitan Borough, the news media (and the Council, to some extent) tar the place with the same “Walsall” brush as everywhere else in the Borough. But as everyone will tell you, Bloxwich (and indeed all the other towns and villages in the Borough) has its own distinct identity, character and need for support on local issues which can get swept aside by borough-wide concerns. See my ‘Edditorial’ Why Bloxwich isn’t Walsall for some other reasons.
So, while I have no illusions about competing with the Walsall newspapers (none of which have been published IN Walsall for decades), I feel a small duty to highlight some issues of local concern which would otherwise fall through the cracks. For example lately I have focused on the problems experienced by traders in the High Street due to extended roadworks for a Red Route. Then there’s the refurbishment of the local Bloxwich Library and its theatre; I have had more access to that than any newspaper. And the recent 40th anniversary of the end of the trolleybuses in Walsall: Bloxwich was the final destination on that network. There are lots of other little stories too.
Also, let us not forget the saga/fiasco of the “restoration” of Bloxwich’s treasured Victorian Fountain, which has, to be polite, had its ups and downs (like the flow of water)! I have followed that closely for more than 18 months, and have received info and comments at times which would be unprintable :O)
I can also cover some stories in more depth than the papers (far more depth in the case of events coverage). So I feel I complement what they do in a modest way, as time permits, and also cover local heritage and related issues which no-one else does on any regular basis.
What has been your favourite post or feature on your website and why?
Oh, there’s been lots! The Bloxwich Fountain saga has been particularly entertaining but for fun, last Hallowe’en, I did a special ‘Bloxwich – Believe it or not!’ feature with stories etc, and wrote one which was half fact, half fantasy, which was rather popular. I was even able to get a kindly local artist to produce a painting to help illustrate it. The weird thing is, earlier this year an old school friend I hadn’t seen since the 70s emailed me to say he was related to one of the main characters! Anyway, it’ll soon be Hallowe’en again, so you judge – it’s called Wakes and Were-Staffies of Bloxwich Renown.
What do you feel has been the most challenging story on your website?
Covering big events like Bloxwich Carnival in detail from start to finish every year – I typically take up to 600 photos at a carnival and that can take days to edit down to a sensible selection. Before then I have to do an illustrated report for The Bloxidge Tallygraph and the Walsall Chronicle newspaper. I used to put big photo albums on the Tallygraph but the webs.com album system is too long-winded for large numbers of pictures so I’ve taken to uploading the best images onto Flickr and making them available via a link at the end of the story. The whole thing can be very tiring, but the results are very popular, and during the carnival season hits on the Tallygraph can go up to 500+ per day!
As a result of covering big events I now get mugged for all sorts of things! I’ve even been roped in on the Carnival Committee and wrote much of the editorial text for their programme this year. I did want to contribute to the community, didn’t I? :O)
What obstacles have you faced with your website, and how have you overcome these?
Webs.com has evolved over the years (it used to be freewebs.com) and has caused real problems at times when it changed/upgraded the Sitebuilder software (the online editor, which I use). Being occupied by millions of American sites it can also slow down to a crawl at times, especially when photo uploading. The template I use - ’Newspaper’ – is one of their standard ones, which I’ve customised with ‘masthead’ graphics and text – I’d like it to be a bit wider but no luck as yet. It would be nice to have proper RSS feeds built-in instead of having to use an external feed. But the whole system is pretty sophisticated apart from that. How do I overcome problems? Lots of patience and time – that’s how evolution works, after all!
What do you think it is that attracts readers to your website?
You’d have to ask them, really, but people seem keen on the local news and information which can often be impossible or difficult to find elsewhere. Lots also love the local history and are surprised by how much there is for a small place, and how much fun it can be. Of late I’ve had a lot of emails from ex-pats as close as Wales and as far away as Australia, some of whom have shed a tear or three over seeing their old home online, which is gratifying.
I have a Twitter account specifically for announcing updates and breaking news, and often let snippets of news like traffic, weather, etc. out that I see on the bus to work (using a Nokia E71). I have a Facebook page for The Bloxidge Tallygraph and I’m using it more now but I’m not a big fan.
What’s the most absurd thing that has happened on your site?
That would be the Bloxwich Fountain taking fourteen months to refurbish instead of three, and then packing up a week or two after it was re-opened by the Mayor of Walsall! Since then the pump has burnt out once and every few days the cast iron cherubs on the base seem either to explode with water or go all limp… As for all the moans I hear about it now looking like a giant green plastic birdbath – well, you’ve gotta laugh, haven’t you? We all love it really, especially as Walsall hasn’t got one :O)
What changes would you like to make to your website over the next few months?
I’d like to be able to do editing ‘on location’ for breaking news. And I have more historical articles to write! Plus I am building in a trade directory, thanks to data supplied by Walsall Council’s regeneration assistant for Bloxwich, the excellent and very helpful Nikki Rolls. All this and I have to get a small book about Bloxwich finished – don’t ask me when!
Where do you see your website in a year’s time?
More of the same, and more and more popular, I hope. That’s if I can still afford to keep it up by then!
What one thing would make managing your website even more rewarding than it already is?
If some kind soul would sponsor The Bloxidge Tallygraph by donating an Apple iPhone 4 with a contract, that would be a big boost! I could do a lot of on location stuff with that, and even hopefully edit ‘in the field’.