Good Night, and Good Luck

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.

Why the reminiscing? Having built this all up – with enormous help and support from dozens of people – it’s time for a change.

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.

Come together

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.

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  • Tim Earl

    Well done Jonathan. You provided an absolutely fantastic public service. I’ll miss my Sunday night email summary of the week’s happenings in and around the area. I honestly would read your newsletter over Ham & High or CNJ any day of the week. All the very best to you in your new home. We’ll miss you! Tim Earl

    • Thanks Tim!

      • Judith Hoffman

        I look forward to your newsletter every Sunday, as do my sisters one of whom lives in Perth Australia. The three of us have been part of the west hampstead community since the mid sixties when we studied at Westfield College london University and then remained both living and working in West Hampstead . We have enjoyed keeping up to date with whats on and whats happening in WH through your amazing efforts. Here’s hoping you are a able to pass on the baton ! All the best for your new life !

      • Thanks Judith – always good to know we’re spreading the WH word around the world! 🙂

  • bubela

    Sob. Amazing that the select but enjoyable Alice House get-together led to such a great local asset, for which West Hampstead thanks you.

    • I still find it hard to believe that we went from that to what we have now. Bonkers really. Thank you so much for your support right from the very start 🙂

  • gitfinger

    Waaaaah! Good luck and Stay in touch!!

    • You don’t get rid of me that easily!

  • Carrie Theyer

    Good luck and thank you. I do think it’s a pity that families have to move away from London, but the whole housing issue is a big novel waiting to be written.

  • Simon B

    Great site Jonathan & Nicky.. Sad news but excellent for you personally!

  • Nathan Davis

    Thanks for all the fish. Anything I can do to help Twitter or website wise pls pm me

    • Cheers Nathan, will do. Think Twitter will chug on for the time being and we’ll see how discussions evolve on the website

  • Joseph Sayegh

    I first said this to you 29/10/2009 and I stand by my words; “It’s incredible what you’ve done. You’ve single handedly got the community together. Kudos”. Best of luck Jonathan. Thanks for making West Hampstead what it is today.

    • Thank you! Gosh yes, that was a while ago! Thanks for all your support over the years.

  • Dee B

    You will both be missed Jonathan and Nicky. Warwickgathersbeckons? !

  • Joan

    You’ve done a great job Jonathan — I read your email avidly every week. Love your sense of humour. I hope someone else is willing to take this on. Enjoy your new life!

    • Thanks Joan, much appreciated… watch this space!

  • Lord Elgin

    Lord Elgin tips his hat.

  • Lewis

    You genuinely helped make West Hampstead what it is. Good luck and thanks for everything

  • Really enjoyed your blogs and all about our neighboring hood, as I used to work and live in West Hampstead…now in Kilburn. And so we shall all miss your info and fun. Best wishes for your new life and baby! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Thanks Shawn, glad you enjoyed it – and watch this space!

  • Martin Cooper

    Just wanted to say thanks. I haven’t been to any of the events (one day…) but this blog has given me such a useful connection to where i live. And i’ve really appreciated how you’ve covered political issues, elections, community development, housing and the like. You’re always fair, factual, balanced and informative. In fact, think it helped me to get involved in campaigning in the last general election for the first time in my life so kudos! Good wishes.

    • Thanks Martin, glad you’ve got something out of it – and there’ll still be a chance to come to events! Time to take the plunge 🙂

  • Steve

    Oh no, this is devastating news. I love checking this site to keep updated with the latest goings on in West Hampstead. Been visiting since you had a simple Blogspot blog and have watched as West Hampstead Life has become what it is today; West Hampstead’s digital newspaper. I really hope this isn’t the end as I’ll be lost without the “What have I missed since…” posts that have made sure I always know what’s going on in the area over the last however many years. Fingers crossed that someone takes over (and not a local business that will only use it to advertise), or maybe a collective of locals could keep publishing (since the site was updated and forum added etc, I get the feeling the backend could support this)? Anyway, it’s easy for me to say this when I’m not the one that will have to do any of the work. I, like many of the people I know in West Hampstead, have never attended any of your events, but have always been avid readers. I would like to say a massive thank you for dedicating all the time and effort that you must have put in to this site – it really is appreciated! I wish you, your partner and baby all the best in your new home and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for “Warwickshire Life” :o)

    • Thanks Steve, very kind words – and always nice to hear from people who’ve been there since the early days! I hope to have some positive news to report on who’s taking it over over the next few weeks! Fingers crossed. And thank you for the good wishes… due date is imminent, so the panic levels are creeping up!

  • Emily

    Thank you for all your work in helping to build the community – have always enjoyed the weekly updates and notifications about local events that otherwise would probably never have heard of. The forum has already been a great addition which has benefited us. All the best for the future, will be a tough act to follow!

    • Thank you Emily – very nice of you say so, and glad the Forum has been of some help!

  • noadvice4u

    Can the owner of this rather successful local digital paper please enlighten us all as to what owner of other local newspapers actually live locally? Given that hardly none do why is the owner seeing fit to publish this article which is very negative overall to his publication?

  • Richety

    Oh good luck with everything! Although I don’t live in West Hampstead (first Maida Vale when your twitter account started along with the first Whampgathers, now Kilburn, you were one of the first Twitter accounts I followed and you’ve been instrumental in me seeing its potential. I’ve also relied on this site for local news (even though it’s mainly West Hampstead news). As I live in the same constituency however, the election build up on the site has been immense. WHL really has been very successful and I’ve yet to find anything similar for other parts of NW London. You’ve probably also contributed to raising the profile of West Hampstead as a result. I doubt I would have started going to bars and restaurants in West Hampstead without all this information on this site and Twitter available. Thanks for all your efforts.

    • Thank you very much – very kind words.

  • perk_i

    A huge thank you, both personal professional, from me and all at The Winch for including us, supporting us and demonstrating how community is changing and growing, and not fading at all. It has and will no doubt continue to be a wonderful community to be part of and we look forward to seeing you on your occasionally saunters back down this way. 🙂

    • Thanks Paul, it’s been so rewarding to be a very small part of the Winch community and I’m delighted we’ve been able to be of help both through fundraising, awareness building and networking! I’m sure our paths will cross again before long.

  • Varsha

    I’ve avidly followed your blogs and felt more connected to my neighborhood because of it. Thanks so much for taking this on and delivering so well and all the best for your new adventures!