This week’s london blogger is Brockley Central, which is a fine example of a great community blog, offering news, discussion and debate on all things Brockley, which is actively engaged with by other residents. We caught up with Nick who set up the site, and writes it along with Jon and Kate.
If you had to describe your blog in less than 15 words how would you do it?
Brockley news, embracing Ladywell, Telegraph Hill, St John’s and sometimes wider South East London.
Why did you start blogging?
When I moved to the area in 2006, I discovered a gaping hole in the internet called Brockley. The most up-to-date information was a community site with a home page that announced it had been closed since 2003. I was toying with the idea of a blog but the trigger was when I went along to a local community group meeting.
It was smaller than I expected it to be, just a few people around a kitchen table, so there was no escape. They all talked about the useful, practical things they were doing and I felt obliged to offer something up. I suggested I start a blog to help promote the things that were going on, which I think they thought was a pretty poor excuse not to dig holes or plant bulbs.
What about London inspires your blog?
With the imminent arrival of the East London Line, Brockley is an area in flux and that makes it an interesting place to write about, despite the fact that there is not much ‘stuff’ which people would normally benchmark an area by, like shops, bars and restaurants. I was asked to review the area recently and it required some lateral thought. But people who live here love it. It’s hard to explain why, I think perhaps it attracts people who enjoy the city and like being around people. As a result, it’s a curious mix of sleepy village and inner city.
What would be your dream moment to post about be?
The piece I dream about writing is a review of opening day at The Talbot. It’s a beautiful old pub on the edge of Brockley that’s been in decline for about 20 years and shut about 6 months ago. I’ve been writing about its fate since the blog began and the management team that is attempting to get it refurbished recently gave me a tour.
The place is a complete mess but they showed me the beautiful old dining room on the first floor, overlooking the tree line of St John’s and told me about their vision to restore it. It could be one of the best pubs in London or it could continue to rot until a developer turns in to flats in another 20 years.
As time passes, the prospect of it happening seems more remote but I refuse to concede defeat to the sceptics on Brockley Central.
What’s your favourite post you’ve ever written?
My favourite articles are the ones where someone has come to me with an idea to talk to the community through the blog, whether that’s a councillor who wants to know how the Brockley public would like their money to be spent or a local restaurant manager who wants to tell people what he’s trying to do with the place.
The thing I write with most passion about is the way London neglects its streets – filling every available space with pointless signs, fencing people in with dirty grey railings, storing rubbish on the pavements and letting cars dominate in too many places. I’ve written often about the small changes we could make that would dramatically improve the look and feel of our main streets. It’s not usually about money, it’s about attitudes and priorities. The Deputy Mayor of Lewisham has vowed to get rid of the railings on Brockley Road – we’ll see.
Would you feel more or less connected to London, would you have missed out on things without your blog?
Occasionally, there are people who ask what the blog has achieved; what Council policies has it influenced, what campaigns has it led? It’s just people bickering, joking, idly passing time. Well that’s not true, but even if it were, that would be a positive end in itself. That’s what real communities are like and that’s what the blog has helped to build.
There are now home to hundreds – maybe thousands – of people using the site who care about the place they live in and want to see it improve, find out what’s going on, or just talk to their neighbours.
Personally, I’ve made new friends through doing it – particularly Jon and Kate who run the site with me. I get emails every day from people I don’t know telling me things I didn’t know before and asking me to spread the word. My free time’s pretty limited so I often experience Brockley vicariously through people who use the site, although I have managed to organise a few Brockley Central drinks nights.
You get a lot of comments on your blog, how did this come about? Are they your neighbours
When it began, I deliberately wanted to avoid what I think are the two biggest pitfalls of local websites, which are usually either hopelessly worthy or irredeemably angry. The site has a point of view, encourages argument and can laugh at itself. That’s all there is to it.
The point about local blogs is that they are about shared experiences – everyone has something to say. Articles based on my ideas or my personal experiences are usually the ones which provoke least comment.
Between the three contributors we manage to post daily, so people know that if they come back again, there will be something new to read and discuss. As a result, it gets more 4,000 visitors a week, a critical mass, which means the conversation is usually more interesting and better-informed than the article that precedes it.
How has your blog connected you to another community of bloggers in London? The world?
My Twitter swarm consists of a lot of people I’ve never met.
Tell us about another up-and coming London blogger you like
And for some general London chat…Where do you live and why do you love it?
South East London is the antidote to many of the things many profess to dislike about the city – relatively affordable houses, plenty of open space, people who actually want to make a life in London, rather than make money out of it. Brockley itself is beautiful and eccentric.
What’s your favourite place in London?
I was born and brought up in Greenwich and my favourite part of London is the top corner of the park, near Vanbrugh Castle, looking towards the river. I think it’s a more interesting view than the money shot from General Woolfe’s statue and one of the most peaceful parts of the park. But I don’t want to be entirely parochial – Borough, Notting Hill, Highbury, The City – it’s all good.
Have you ever been sick on the tube?
No, but I did once drunkenly eat a Whopper I’d dropped on the floor of a Northern Line train. It was a dark time in my life, before Brockley saved me.
Anything else we should know?
The Brockley Open Studios weekend – when local artists fling open their homes and gardens to the public – is one of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon in London.