Update, Jan 3: The W14 group has just reached a landmark 1,000 members. Congratulations Annette!
When nearby boroughs of London were burning, the streets crowded with youngsters looting shops and rioting during the summer of 2010, the police commander for West Kensington knew exactly where to turn.
To get accurate news out to the local people worried about what was going on, and to provide some reassurance that their community was basically still peaceful, she called Annette Albert.
The backbone of the W14 website, Annette found herself for the first time in her life getting a briefing from senior police officers as she took her place sitting alongside the local newspaper.
At 7.13pm on August 8, as the mayhem spread into more boroughs, The W14 site was able to carry the latest relevant information direct from the borough commander which included the phone numbers to call the police, the address of the local station and updates of arrests and activity in local streets.
It was a turning point for the site’s relations with the police.
“It was funny, there I was, very much the enthusiastic amateur. Before the riots I didn’t really hear about what was going on from the police but I sent that message out immediately to all members” said Annette. “I then sent out regular updates. During the riots I was up through the night, just making sure there was nothing to incite people being posted.”
The reaction from the members of the site was quick to come and meant that people were able to effectively monitor what was happening nearby without receiving mis-information from outsiders picking up or repeating inaccurate reports.
This response from one grateful resident was typical:
This is really excellent, useful information. It is comforting to know that our local constabulary are monitoring situations, and making information available to the residents so promptly.
But obviously the riots were an exceptional situation for the site to cope with, Annette’s more usual activity will see her taking up causes for the local community and getting to grips with the issues that effect the area.
Therapy and local visibility
At first it was a type of therapy, something Annette says was able to get involved in while re-cooperating from an illness – now it has become a lifestyle.
Starting every day at the local Deli Bar cafe means she’s very visible to the many local people who drop by to update her.
The issues raised are as varied and diverse as the local population but regular themes involve planning and development – often they’re issues which Annette is able to raise directly with the local councillor.
“We cover stuff that the newspaper can’t because they don’t have the time. Most of the stuff we look at is across a really small area.”
But despite successfully highlighting issues which impact on people’s lives – such as the activities of a local conman in one instance and being able to reveal a trend for erecting scaffolding in the area as a way of construction companies avoiding storage costs – Annette is insistent that the activity on W14 isn’t journalism. It’s all about action.
And it’s this mobilisation in the local community which probably goes somewhere to explaining the close nature of the online community with more than 900 members and growing. Built using Ning rather than and open-to-all blogging platform more usually associated with hyperlocal initiative, W14 requires members to be registered to the site so that everyone knows who is involved.
This has also led to people taking responsibility for the site’s production and moderation, sharing in the work of running the site, something that’s essential to ensure its continuation.
For one person it’s a lot of work and finally we have people involved. It’s a far better way of doing it, finding people who are interested. It has had to grow organically.
But yes, it is always the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing at night.
W14 is at w14london.ning.com