More than six years ago I tweeted about a hairdresser on Broadhurst Gardens (long gone). It was a bit of an experiment in using Twitter for local news. Would there be enough stuff to talk about? Was Twitter really going to take off? Most pertinently, were people in West Hampstead interested in getting local news this way?
Fast forward to 2015 and we all know the answers to all those questions. It became apparent very quickly that not only was there more than enough stuff to talk about, but actually Twitter was far too restrictive. West Hampstead Life was born with a thrilling opening post on the results of the 2009 European elections.
But West Hampstead Life and the WHampstead twitter account were always about more than just disseminating news. Six years ago, despite having lived in West Hampstead for a long time, I didn’t know anyone here. So the second idea was to see if I could unearth (or infiltrate) the local community. Turns out that Twitter was a great place to get to know locals virtually, but it also enabled the offline meetings, dinners, parties, and general socialising that makes West Hampstead Life stand out from the now crowded world of hyperlocal websites.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine
Many of you will know – either from me, or through the high-speed grapevine – that I’ve moved out of London. You’ve probably noticed a drop-off in website content, and those of you who read the newsletter will know we’ve taken a break.
Trust me, it’s not because I’ve fallen out of love with West Hampstead. It’s far more clichéd than that. Nicky and I are expecting a baby and we wanted more space. We immediately hit the property market brick wall. To get a nice larger place in West Hampstead was not feasible, and we didn’t fancy moving “a bit further away”. Instead, we moved to Warwickshire.
I know one or two of you who knew felt that I should have announced this immediately, though the majority seemed to understand that it was still possible to publish local news without being in situ all the time; and that I was hoping there could be a seamless handover of the website. Unfortunately, sorting that out is taking a bit longer than I’d hoped (negotiations are progressing, but if you’re interested in buying a successful hyperlocal, I’m still open to offers).
Anyway, six years feels about right. The site first took off with coverage of the 2010 general election, so it was great to be able to repeat the process for this year’s vote – and this time to chair my own hustings. In fact, over six years, we’ve reported on the riots, eaten more Sunday lunches in one day than medical advice would ever permit, analysed every major development from Ballymore to 156 West End Lane and befriended a tonne of amazing people along the way.
There have been humbling moments – such as meeting the parents of Amy Werner, the American student so badly injured in the December 2013 car crash. There have been daunting moments, like interviewing Glenda Jackson. And there have been ridiculous moments, like talking to Paul Ross on BBC London radio about mystery cucumbers. All those moments have added up to this being one of the most fun and engaging periods of my life.
While we sort out a transition, the website will tick over. Expect it to focus more on the features and reviews though. For news, I suggest you head over to the Forum where I’ll post stuff as and when I can, and you can write your own stories. We’ll continue to update the calendar too, so do keep checking that.
The newsletter will go on ice. It has been one of the most popular features of West Hampstead Life. For about the last four years, I’ve published it 50 weeks a year and I can’t deny that getting my Sunday nights back is amazing. Keep signed up though – until we manage the handover we may send out the occasional newsflash e-mail and update everyone on events.
Twitter – I can’t abandon Twitter. It’s where it all began. My @WHampstead account will remain fairly active, much as it has been over the past few weeks. Whoever takes over the site will have the @WHampsteadLife account to play with, but the original @WHampstead account is too personal to me for me to give it up and I fully expect people will carry on sharing news and asking questions for quite some time. Maybe don’t expect quite as rapid a response as you may have become used to. And no, I don’t know why the police helicopter is overhead.
The most fun aspect of West Hampstead Life has always been the get-togethers. The first whampgather was late 2009. Sixteen of us met in the Alice House (Stephen Fry couldn’t make it) and I was dead nervous. The last few have seen almost 200 people turn up (and I was still a bit nervous).
Dinners, books, films, barbecues, comedy nights, picnics, drinks, and even the occasional bit of dancing… the events have been the glue of West Hampstead Life. They’ve already spawned two weddings, many flatmates, and I’m fairly sure more than a few hook-ups; but also a rich network of people who know they can walk down West End Lane and bump into someone they know. I’ve never bought into the “village feel” of West Hampstead, but I do buy into the idea of a community and that’s what West Hampstead is.
And you don’t need me to keep those connections. The great news is that the events will continue. There’s already been a whampdinner and an NW6 Film Club night since I left and the next whampsocial and whampbooks are in September.
There may never be another whampgather – perhaps that’s one event that’s run its course; but at least the local businesses can breathe a sigh of relief that I won’t be bugging them for raffle prizes any more.
So long and thanks for all the fish
By whatever metric you choose, West Hampstead Life is one of the country’s most successful hyperlocal sites despite only ever being a sideline and – for most of its life – having been run pretty much single-handedly by me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t immensely proud of that. But it’s only because local people keep reading, tweeting, replying and e-mailing (constantly, constantly e-mailing) that it’s thrived.
It would be impossible to thank all the people who’ve helped me along the way. There are literally hundreds of you and it’s a dangerous game to start naming names! I would, however, like to mention that handful of people who got it from the very beginning; the people who were supportive from the start and who still are in different ways. Some have left the hood, some are still there, all were instrumental in getting project #whamp off the ground, whether they realised it or not. They know who they are. Thank you.
Once I have an update on the site, I’ll let you all know. I’m still around from time to time – had that second #whamp wedding to attend this weekend, for example – and I’ll try and swing by a whampsocial or a whampdinner (if my name gets pulled out of the hat) whenever possible.
In the meantime my friends, it’s been a pleasure.