Farewell West Hampstead

We’re sad to announce that West Hampstead Life is stopping the presses.

After nine years, it’s had a really good run, but Tuesday’s “What have you missed…” will be the last post on the site and the final newsletter is going out as soon as I hit “publish” on this post.

As you know, for the past couple of years, Mark has been doing the bulk of the writing for West Hampstead Life but he is now moving from West Hampstead to West Potsdam in Berlin.

This has happily coincided with my own decision that, having moved out of the area three years ago (almost to the day), I’ve been devoting too much time to West Hampstead and there are other projects I want to pursue.

I did the big sentimental “good bye” last time, so I’m not going to do it again. I do however want to say a huge thank you to Mark. He stepped in when it looked as if WHL might meet a premature end, and his commitment and enthusiasm since then have been exemplary. He’s got a few words he wants to say too:

I’m not very good at goodbyes. Like many of you, I was an avid reader so when it came to end in August 2015, I felt there was a WHL-sized hole in West Hampstead. After a few months, with some trepidation, I asked Jonathan if I could help. Thanks to his gentle guidance I think I did a pretty good job. I’ve rarely done anything that has had such consistent and positive feedback. I think you know this already, but I can’t tell you want a cool guy Jonathan is; it’s been a pleasure to work with him. No bust ups. Ever.

There is something about life in West Hampstead that both Jonathan and I appreciated, and many of you do too. West Hampstead Life has tried – and I hope succeeded – in making it just a little bit better. It’s been a privilege to take over the West Hampstead Life mantle for the past two years.

Thanks Mark – kind words. Very simply, without Mark there wouldn’t have been a WHL for the past two years.

If you’re interested, we’ll be at Bobby Fitzpatrick’s on Thursday (April 5th) for a farewell drinks party. Do come along – everyone is welcome.

A few answers to the obvious questions:
Are you closing the website completely?
The website will remain up. Sometime soon it’ll go offline for about a week while I simplify the design and turn it into an archive. There’s nine years of content on WHL and I think it would be a shame if it vanished. But I’m afraid there’ll be no new content.

Why aren’t you selling it?
I was talking to someone who I thought would have been an excellent new owner, but unfortunately he too is thinking of leaving the area. I’m not looking for anyone else to take it on – my experience from a couple of years ago suggests that although there’s lots of interest, when the reality of the time commitment sinks in, it’s no longer viable for most people.

What about the mailing list?
We will keep the mailing list for the next three months, on the offchance that someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse. However, if anyone does want to use it then you will be given the chance to opt in to anything new (in accordance with the new EU data protection laws). After three months, we’ll delete the list completely.

And Twitter/Facebook etc?
Good question… my @WHampstead twitter account will remain. Those of you who’ve been around a while will have noticed that I tweet a lot less than I used to! Expect to see an even greater proportion of RTs vs. original tweets. As for the other channels, I’ll play it by ear.

What about socials?
There’s still an appetite for whampsocials, but they’ll be promoted via social media rather than the mailing list – keep your eyes peeled on Twitter/Facebook etc.

And that, my friends, is the end.

Welcome back to West Hampstead Life

What have you missed since August 2015?

Obvious. The West Hampstead Life newsletter and website. Yes, it’s been nine months since Jonathan sent out the last newsletter and there has been a West Hampstead Life-sized hole ever since. I kept up a low-key correspondence with Jonathan during this time as I felt strongly that there must be something that could be done. Perserverence has paid off. West Hampstead Life is back and I’m delighted to be its new editor.

It’s early days with the relaunch (and bear with me for the inevitable teething troubles). Some things will change, but we will keep the best bits of West Hampstead Life. Initially, we will make the newsletter fortnightly, not weekly, to allow us to rebuild things gradually.

Me, I’ve lived in West Hampstead for 18 years and over this time a lot has changed, but whatever makes West Hampstead, West Hampstead and first drew me to it, has remained. It was something Jonathan sensed when he started this project now seven years ago. Partly it was about disseminating local news but he quickly found that it unearthed a local community which responded to the more social side of West Hampstead Life. We want to keep that too.

Much as I feel part of West Hampstead I know that I don’t know everything and I certainly can’t write about everything. We are therefore very actively looking for people to help contribute. Please drop me an e-mail if you’re interested.

Living in London is great but at times it can be stressful, lonely and frustrating. So the experts recommend we take a mindful approach and live in the ‘now’, in the moment. Fine, but as well as living in the ‘now’ shouldn’t we live in the ‘here’? Which to me is about knowing what’s going on locally, knowing your neighbours, supporting your local shops and caring about the local environment. I want West Hampstead Life to continue to be part of making that happen and to be part of making West Hampstead a better place, please join me. Mark

A word from the publisher

Yes, hello, it’s me. You don’t get rid of me that easily. It’s been a slightly painful process trying to resurrect WHL, so I’m delighted that we’ve emerged with such an enthusiastic new editor.

Some of you have asked if I’m moving back. I’m not. But I am retaining ownership of the site and will be the publisher of WHL, which basically means I’ll be selling the ads and helping Mark where I can. Mark will be the editor, and we couldn’t have found someone more closely intertwined with the area. Mark is one of the few people under 60 who knows more about West Hampstead than I do. He’s a long-term resident and very involved in existing community groups while not being a political activist, so WHL’s broad impartiality remains.

We’re very pleased to have many advertisers already lined up. They recognise both the unrivalled exposure that WHL brings for local businesses and the broader benefit to West Hampstead in supporting West Hampstead Life, which quite literally can’t function without making some money. Particular thanks to Dutch & Dutch, which has committed to be a long-term advertiser, thereby enabling this relaunch. It shouldn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: advertisers have no say in editorial coverage unless they have written a sponsored article, which is always described as such.

I shall continue to run the @WHampstead twitter account, Mark will take the @WHampsteadLife account, and we’re (slowly) going to up our presence on Facebook and Instagram.

FINALLY, as Mark hinted above, the broad idea that a local community shouldn’t just be virtual lives on. Expect more pub get togethers and whampdinners in restaurants (plus cultural stuff too – Ed). Say it quietly, but there might be something on June 17th, though you’ll only hear about that if you’re on the mailing list. Jonathan

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.