Sean Brady started Formby First in May 2007 to report on his activities as a locally elected Parish Councillor for the Merseyside coastal town, which is a popular tourist spot. Since then he has developed the website to ‘write occasional stories about Formby as a place’. In July 2009 Sean created formbyfirst.info – ‘a free resource for any individual Formby resident or organisation or group in Formby’.
Sean Brady is the third hyperlocal website manager to answer Ten Questions. I strongly suggest you also check out Paul Bradshaw’s ‘Hyperlocal Voices’ at Online Journalism – a series of in-depth interviews with leading local bloggers who so far include Mike Atkinson of Parwich.org, Lisa Reeves of Alderley Edge and Jon Bounds of Birmingham it’s Not Shit.
What made you start Formby First?
I ought to point out that from the outset I was ‘on the internet’ before the use of web browsers. I then became involved from the very early 1990’s with a range of European University based projects developing ‘Learning Environments’. I was therefore not a rookie. I began my first blog using Google’s Blogger and reported on my activities as a local Parish Councillor, at that time I was the Chair of an association of 10 parish Councils and sat as a member on the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP). When I retired from work I was keen to explore my relationship with the landscape, the place and the people where I live.
I am still a local Parish Council and also Chair of ‘The Formby Partnership’. My function is to represent my local community hence my choice of the name – FormbyFirst. The web site is predominantly there to give an account of my activities as a Councillor, but increasingly more items feature the ‘story of place’
What do you feel the key local issues are for your community and how have you used your website to address these?
Formby is a popular coastal venue for neighbouring Merseyside and the North West, red squirrels, clean extensive sand dunes, beaches and pine woods draw in huge numbers of visitors. The scale and impact of these visitors is an issue. Formby is a dormitory town with an ageing population and this raises issues for the role and nature of ‘community’. Climate Change, Peak Oil and Food Security are long-term issues that need attention.
What has been your favourite post or feature on your website and why?
Two items have caught the repeated attention of visitors. The first is a short video about a hazard to cyclists on a long distance walk/cycle path just outside the town. It is a popular route and cyclists in particular find this story when they search for data on the path.
The second item features my bowling club and their local rivals. Both of these stories feature videos and pictures, I guess they illustrate the motto – a picture is worth a thousand words!
What do you feel has been the most challenging story on your website?
A controversial extract from a fellow Parish Councillor’s reply to me about the clearance of a local drainage ditch led to heated exchanges between residents affected and my colleague. It has made me rather circumspect when it comes to writing about others’ views. I am disappointed that I cannot get my fellow councillors to accept the idea of transparency and open democracy and it reminds me of my prior experiences as a former ‘party politician’.
What obstacles have you faced with your website, and how have you overcome these?
The previous answer is relevant on the question of content. Technically I like the Typepad platform, but I am ‘playing’ with a wordpress hosted site because of the ability to use ‘pages’ without the normal blog side-bars. Essentially I am thinking about keeping my blog but setting up a ‘web-site’ more like The Hedon Blog, the Ventnor Blog etc. I am very attracted to the concept of Hyper-blogging but separating the ‘news, local features etc from my activities as a Councillor.
What do you think it is that attracts readers to your website?
Local stuff, pictures and videos and there is also another interested audience – other hyper-bloggers!
What’s the most absurd thing that has happened on your site?
Depends on the meaning of absurd – the bowlers in funny hats could be the best example and the worst would be the discussions arising from the ‘drainage ditch’ debate. I chose to remove the story and all the comments eventually.
What changes would you like to make to your website over the next few months?
I’m involved with a local Music Festvial, two successful years so far. It’s become clear we need a local ‘clearing house’ for event co-ordination, so I will be adding an ‘events tab to my blog and a submission form. This should happen shortly.
Where do you see your website in a year’s time?
Next May there are elections and I may not be a Councillor – but that would resolve the issue of providing a ‘report’ and ‘reporting’. I would be able to embrace proper ‘hyperblogging’.
What one thing would make managing your website even more rewarding than it already is?
More comments, more contributions from other authors and sources and finally more of my reports appearing in the local press, they as an industry, like local politicians don’t seem to have woken up to a new and potentially very rich relationship with their ‘audiences’.
On the question of the new ‘WordPress’ site it can be seen in a very putative form at http://sbrady.wordpress.com/ though it will have a more appropriate Domain name. I’ve begun to tamper with the css file and I will continue to do so until it looks very different, but the underlying theme will be the same as the Hedon Blog site, Thanks to Ray for the recent update on his site, which of course I knew about because I follow his site – one Hyperblogger to another.
One of the interesting things about my blog is the number of contacts that arise, Just this morning a resident has written about setting up a local lottery to raise funds for the community. I’m interested in starting a Local Development Trust so there maybe mileage in this idea. Only last week the NW Oxfam community officer met me to talk about setting up a local support group.
I guess I’m saying Blogs help people make contact and network it would be interesting to map that process, locally and nationally. The Big Society idea may stimulate activity.