Since I relocated to Cardiff in late December last year, I’ve naturally been getting my bearings with the city’s hyperlocal landscape. There’s certainly plenty of activity, with a wide variety independent websites and online voices for the city’s neighbourhoods and communities of interest.
Before I moved here I already knew of Llandaff News, a voluntary project by journalist Joni Ayn which sadly stopped publishing late last year and MyWhitchurch, a community forum created by Matthew Lock in 2005 to help local residents become better informed and connected, which has since been redeveloped to also include a blog/news style format. However, after settling in I soon became aware of other emerging new hyperlocal websites.
The first I found via twitter whilst searching for mentions of my new neighbourhood of Pontcanna, a small village near the city centre. Pontcanna Hub was created by Fran O’Hara, who taught herself WordPress over the Christmas break, to support the local residents’ group her, Flip White and Simon White have kick-started in their campaign against the development of a chain supermarket store in the area.
I spoke to Fran and Flip about their campaign and why and how they created the website to support this [full interview available here.]:
“It was two campaigns that started it, in the summer,” said Fran. “There were rumours that Tesco was going to take over one of the smaller shops at the top end of Pontcanna and then we heard from a developer that he was in talks with supermarkets…and that was right in the middle of the more residential part of it. Both these have come back on the agenda right before Christmas. A lot of people were either confusing the campaigns or we wanted them to do specific actions so we thought if we set up a website, it would enable people to have somewhere to go, which is why we called it a hub. The other thing is there’s a lovely community feel but there’s all these rumours! So it was a good pace to capture real voices and actually what’s happening and then the flip side of that would be that you can communicate to press, council etc. what it’s going to be like here if they do let these supermarket chains move into what is essentially a small urban suburb. That was our primary aim and then as part of that because it’s a very community based area there were lots of other things like the cycle routes across Bute Park, all these other things that we felt people had been involved in or were interested in, we could flag those up as well.”
The campaign and its use of the web to galvanise local support has been particularly effective – in light of the issues raised council officials recommended rejection of the plans to the planning committee, resulting the proposal being taken off the agenda of the last meeting.
Last month I was kindly invited by Philippa Davies to speak at the WordPress Users Wales meetup about how I’d used WordPress to build the Birmingham community website Digbeth is Good and trained others looking to do the same across the UK with Talk About Local.
There I met Nicole Rugman and Geraldine Nichols of roathcardiff.net, ‘a hyperlocal news and information resource for Roath, Cardiff’. It keeps the neighbourhood regularly informed of local news, arts and cultural happenings and coverage of the Made in Roath arts festival. The website also has a Roath People category, where you’ll find reflections on Roath life by local people from Baroness Randerson to Matt Jarret, who likes ‘local pubs where old people argue about diseases and the lounge still smells of smoke more than 4 years after the smoking ban was enforced.’
Roath Cardiff began in June 2011 after a chat in the local pub between Geraldine, Matt Appleby, Huw Thomas and Ed Walker, who was working at yourCardiff at the time. Much of the curent Cardiff-themed online activity can be traced back to the work Ed Walker and Hannah Waldram, beat blogger at Guardian Cardiff did whilst they lived and worked here in 2010-2011. As well as broadening the scope and depth of local online news provision they also worked to roll out digital skills in the city and encourage further online activity, starting Roath and Canton social media surgeries and the Cardiff Blogs website and networking events, all of which were sustained after Ed and Hannah relocated to new jobs in London.
A brand new hyperlocal website on the scene is Heathlands.us, started by Richard Wenner on 18th February to celebrate the Heathlands (CF14) area of Cardiff, bring local personal and public archive materials to life and connect residents online and offline with a Jubilee Street Party. Richard is hoping to train up a team of active citizens to help build up the new site and take ownership of the Heathlands profile.
Over on Facebook, Paul Byers has kick-started the open group Connect Cathays, for an inner-city area that’s undergone a rather serious ‘studentification’ over the years. Paul, who says he was inspired by attending the #TAL11 Unconference in Cardiff last year, hopes to use the group to encourage better communication between local residents, students and non-students alike. There are plans in the pipeline to build an accompanying Connect Cathays website and provide local training so residents can use it to tell their stories, voice concerns, promote events and activities and also work with relevant local data to draw out the key issues affecting the area.
All of this is in addition to the websites that cover Cardiff city as a whole, such as The Penny Post, the storytelling site We Are Cardiff and a newly invigorated The Cardiffian from students at the Cardiff School of Journalism, which started publishing content in January after a nine-month break.
And then there’s the sites for and by specific Cardiff communities and communities of interest, such as Cardiff Eastern Post, which focuses on Asians living in Cardiff, Take Root, ‘a central place where people can connect with others interested in grassroots change in Cardiff’ and Amy Davies’ beautiful Cardiff Arcades Project, celebrating the city’s unique Victorian shopping arcades and the independent shops within them, a fantastic example of how you can use the web to help your local high street.
All of this makes Cardiff feel like an exciting and well-connected place to be. Although I’ve only just moved here, I find I’m not at a loss for things to do, people to meet and social media surgeries to get involved in. This is one of the great things about a city with such an active online community, it helps newcommers navigate their new social as well as physical local landscape and make those much-needed human connections quite quickly. For me, it’s making Cardiff feel more like home.