All Good Things…

Chris Rand, Editor of Queen Edith’s magazine, is leaving Queen Edith’s. Here he looks back on ten years of the magazine and the Queen Edith’s News email newsletter.

I’d forgotten how this all started. Fortunately, unlike politicians, I don’t delete my emails, and here’s the story that my inbox tells.

Ten years ago, in 2014, there was an organisation called the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, consisting of representatives from local churches, schools and the council. Few residents seemed aware of it. The group met infrequently to discuss local issues, but supported an occasional small 2- or 4-page printed newsletter called Queen Edith’s Community News. This was edited by Philip Gray and was made available around the St James Church area.

Online, there was a local news email, published by Councillor Jean Swanson, sent to a small circulation to highlight her work as a councillor. There was also my occasional personal blog, where I commented on local issues, such as planning issues and local politics. And as far as I know, that was about it for local information.

One day, there seemed to be more things than usual that I thought other residents might like to know about. I wrote a blog post rounding them all up, saying: “I promised a few weeks ago that I wouldn’t make this into a community newsletter, but there are so many things to report on that we’re getting perilously close.”

That seems to be when everything changed. The idea of a ‘What’s On’ email newsletter for the area had some momentum.

New ideas

I was advised to approach the Queen Edith’s Community Forum to see if they could support it. At their next meeting, I found myself sitting at the back with fellow residents Sam Davies and Rebecca Jones, who I didn’t know but who’d coincidentally also had ideas for the area – and had been pointed towards the Community Forum.

Rebecca wanted to get some local projects organised and supported properly, most notably the garden at Nightingale Recreation Ground. Sam thought the whole area needed to become more of a community, and that introducing some big events might be the catalyst.

From memory, the members of the Community Forum looked at the three of us, and effectively said: “Over to you”. I’m not sure if it ever met again in that format.

Rebecca, Sam and I all understood that communication underpins everything in a local community. We got our first printed newsletter out in the Spring of 2015. The relaunched Queen Edith’s Community News went to over 3000 homes using a professional delivery service, and seemed to be generally appreciated.

Our first email/online offering, What’s On in Queen Edith’s, was published a few months later, in June 2015, at the same time as the second issue of the relaunched Queen Edith’s Community News printed newsletter. The email was distributed monthly, although it was more of a reminder to visit the listing of local events on the Community Forum’s website, which was updated constantly. I publicised it through my local blog and it picked up 100 or so subscribers immediately, a figure that would grow steadily. At the start of 2016, by popular request, the email became “Your Weekly What’s On Guide for Queen Edith’s”, arriving in inboxes at 6pm on a Friday night, a distribution time that continues to this day.

Over the next four years, the What’s On in Queen Edith’s email newsletter grew steadily, and editorial duties were taken over by Judith Salmon and then Chloe Brown. Meanwhile, advertising support flooded into the printed newsletter, and this went straight into its budget, allowing it to expand over successive issues to 24 pages.

In January 2020, we decided to relaunch the printed newsletter as Queen Edith’s magazine, and publish it four times a year. The Spring edition came out in February. We had no idea what was about to hit us, or what our publications could go on to achieve.

The next month, everyone’s plans went out of the window. On 14 March 2020, we sent out an email to the What’s On circulation called Tackling Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Queen Edith’s. With national and local authorities seemingly confused as to the best way of organising a concerned population, Community Forum chair Sam Davies wrote a plan outlining how this local community could support itself, and recommended to the City Council that it rolled out a similar grassroots scheme everywhere. Our What’s On email, which at that point went to a circulation of about 650 homes, was ideally placed to distribute the information that local residents desperately needed. We printed flyers recommending residents sign up to the circulation, and over the next few weeks, increased the subscriber base to over 1,000.

From 17 March, Queen Edith’s Latest Coronavirus (COVID-19) local update went daily, detailing closures and updates from schools, businesses and churches. The leader of the City Council forwarded our email to officers with the note: “A high bar for daily local Mutual Aid network updates!” It became the bedrock on which Queen Edith’s resident support initiatives would be built during the pandemic, including the “Happy To Help” mutual aid scheme and the hugely important Community Food Hub.

A need for more

We continued to run the emails on a daily basis for over 10 weeks until 5 June 2020, returning to a weekly format as more news stories became about businesses reopening. We were well aware, however, that the emails were only read in around 1 in 4 homes, and there was a need to publish the printed Queen Edith’s magazine to reach everyone in the area. Unfortunately, the delivery company were not working, which was a problem.

Someone suggested that local residents might take on the task. We asked… and received over 60 offers of help. It was on. We acquired a list of every address locally, and decided to deliver to a much wider area than before, finally including areas not in the Queen Edith’s council ward but which consider themselves to be in the area, such as Cherry Hinton Road, the Lichfield Road area, and the eastern end of Queen Edith’s Way. Our volunteers took on delivery for over 5,500 homes, and the rest, as they say, is history. After the pandemic subsided, the volunteers continued to offer their services, and indeed, their numbers doubled to around 120. Queen Edith’s magazine became part of local life.

The more informative version of the weekly email also seemed to be a step up from the pre-pandemic listings publication, and so it became Queen Edith’s News, which has steadily built to a circulation of over 1,900 homes.

After 10 years, I am now handing over management and editing of the two publications, as I leave the area for a new stage in life. A small team is coalescing to continue the weekly email newsletter, and I am hopeful that they will be able to find a way to keep the magazine going too. It has been a fantastic experience to develop these two publications, and I know they’ve played a part in creating the Queen Edith’s we know today – an area that had no real identity back in 2015, but is now one of the best-known parts of the city. Thank you to everyone who’s helped.