After a momentous few months, Roman Road LDN’s Editor-in-Chief Tabitha Stapely shares her plans for the future of the magazine as we emerge into a new world.
The last few months have been a momentous time for the world, but also for us as a local community. As lockdown eases, this is my first opportunity to take stock of the changes and start assessing the new landscape.
As a community publication my staff and I have had the privilege and the heartbreak of witnessing the trials and tribulations of the pandemic at close quarters. Local businesses, residents and community groups have turned to us for support and succour as they faced the enormous challenges of this crisis.
At the same time, our hearts have been filled with joy and pride at the response from locals, who have shown incredible unity, courage and selflessness. Daribul Islam, a 100-year-old man who walked laps around his garden to raise £150,000 while fasting for Ramadan; the Thursday claps that were so loud and heart-felt that the BBC came to film us; the pharmacists who met their duties with courage despite lack of PPE; the food shops who doubled their efforts to meet the spike in demand; the sign paintings for the NHS that became a social media sensation, and a myriad of other acts of kindness that helped us feel less alone. We have undoubtedly become better neighbours.
It is with great sadness that many local institutions are lost for good including Yoga Place in Bethnal Green, the first yoga studio that opened in Tower Hamlets 20 years ago, and Percy Ingle, the family bakery that has been serving bread and pastries to East Enders for 66 years. Many still face an uncertain future.
We’re extremely proud, and to be honest, a little overwhelmed, by the uptake in engagement with Roman Road LDN during lockdown. It’s been unprecedented. In the last few months our followers and subscriptions have grown more than ever, and our enquiries have increased tenfold.
Albeit under unwelcome circumstances, these extraordinary times have prompted a new appreciation for local life that Roman Road LDN has been advocating since launching two years ago. The forced confinement to our neighbourhoods has reminded those of us who were caught up in our fast-paced, global lives of something we knew but struggled to implement – that living life on a more local level is better for us and our planet.
We believe our model of community-led journalism, which unites, informs and uplifts, plays a pivotal role in achieving a strong, vibrant and rewarding community life, as our recently published ‘Social Value of Local Journalism Report‘ shows. The response from our readers during this crisis has shown us how much a community publication is needed – and wanted – to help us live a more local and fulfilled life.
As we emerge from lockdown, questioning and re-thinking how we live our lives, I think there is hope for sustained change. Even if most of us end up returning to our busy lives, some of us will have changed our habits for good. I hope that many of us will choose to ‘keep it local’.
We think that this may be the change that is needed to save our local neighbourhoods and high streets from dying. It’s a cliche, but we don’t want to go back to the way things were. We want to use this momentum to change how we live our lives longterm, to create a more inclusive, supportive, community-oriented way of life.
For our part, we are working on projects that will help us all stay local more easily. In response to requests from local businesses during lockdown we are launching an affordable listing service for local organisations. Listings for volunteer-run organisations, those indomitable community groups that improve our neighbourhoods with no financial recompense, will be offered at no cost.
We still believe our content should be freely available to all so we won’t hide content behind a paywall. Instead, we will invest more in our Patron scheme, as we believe the best way to serve the community is to be funded by our local readers.
For this we appeal to you, our community. At a time when many of Roman Road LDN’s current and future revenue streams have ceased, we have re-doubled our efforts to ensure we were there when our community needed us most. But we need your support to get us through these tough transition times, and then to continue progressing towards a self-sustaining model of local journalism.
We now receive £450 per month from our patrons, for which we are hugely grateful as we can now cover the costs of one reporter for one day per week. But this is not enough.
If you like or appreciate what we do, please help us reach our goal by supporting us in supporting you. As a not-for-profit social enterprise you can be sure that every penny of your donations is fed back into our community publication.
> Become a Patron If you are a reader, local resident or are just interested in our part of town, you can become a Patron. For as little as £2 a month, you can support our new model of journalism and help us strengthen the local community, making it happier, healthier and wealthier.
> Become a Partner If you are a local independent business or organisation, you can join our new listings service to publicise your organisation and events to local people. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Tabitha and the team (Natasha, Siva and Frankie)
Can you help us?
As a not-for-profit media organisation using journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or membership scheme as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
If a fraction of the local 40,000 residents donated two pounds a month to Roman Road LDN it would be enough for our editorial team to serve the area full time and be beholden only to the community. A pound at a time, we believe we can get there.