Networked Neighbourhoods: Brockley Central strengthens community

Brockley Central has made our life so much easier. I wish we had one in every area.
- Lewisham Council officer, Networked Neighbourhoods report, Nov 2010 (anon, natch)

Between April and June this year, Brockley Central readers participated in a research project by a group called Networked Neighbourhoods to investigate the impact that hyperlocal sites like this one are having on their communities. The work included a survey and focus groups with readers from Brockley Central, East Dulwich Forum and Harringay Online.

The report is published today and we’ll be examining its conclusions in more detail over the week, but some of the top-line results are very interesting.

Before we go on, it’s worth pointing out a few things:

- Most of the research took place before the May elections, so the results relate to the last generation of local councillors
- Since the study was carried out, the Brockley Central readership has grown by approximately 25% in terms of daily visits
- Since the study was carried out, we’ve added hotlinks to create a permanent home for tradespeople recommendations, flat sharing and so on, in response to reader feedback
- The survey population of 135 readers was self-selecting – they volunteered to take part

So, allowing for all of that, here’s what we learned about BC readers...

46% have lived in the area 1-5 years
16% have lived in the area 6-10 years
15% have lived in the area 11-20 years
14% have lived in the area 20+ years
82% own their property
92% have a degree
66% are in full time employment
92% are white

In terms of insights, the most glaring is that if Lewisham Councillors are keen to avoid smoke-filled protests outside the Town Hall, they should engage with voters via sites like this one.

More than 40% of BC readers said their opinions of Councillors improved as a result of reading their comments on the site (negative reaction was negligible). Even Council Officers, who are rarely heard from on the record on here (although we know they occasionally post anonymously) improved their reputation by over 20% - most likely in large part due to Nigel Tyrell’s contribution.

Across all three sites, more than 70% of the Council officers’ polled about their experiences of contributing had been positive and nearly 90% believe hyperlocal sites are a constructive influence.

This pattern was similar across all three sites, although Harringay Online was the only site which produced a major improvement in attitudes towards the police – the editor points out that his site is almost unique in that the Met engages with it.

Not only do readers like it when the Council engages, they are actively willing to work with the Council. More than 70% of BC readers said that people on the site show willingness to help and get involved.

Of the three sites studied, Brockley Central is rated by its users as the least mutually supportive (although it still scores a healthy 69% in support of the statement that “People show support for one another”) but the most welcoming (a whopping 92% think so).

Where Brockley Central performs relatively poorly is in converting online conversation in to physical engagement. Nearly 30% of BC readers said they had met someone as a result of the website, but more than 60% of East Dulwich Forum readers answered yes to the same question. The argument for a BC Xmas drink has never been presented more starkly.

Neighbours were also less likely to have exchanged things (goods? Services? Bodily fluids?) via the website than on the East Dulwich Forum or Harringay Online. The forum format obviously lends itself more easily to this, but hopefully the hotlinks have provided a short-term fix.

Overall, the message of the study is emphatic. The hyperlocal sites studied produce a strong sense of local identity among readers, provide useful information:

- 92 per cent agree that useful information gets shared efficiently
- 95 per cent say that they feel more informed about their neighbourhood as a consequence of using their site
- 91 per cent agree that the sites help people to find out about shops and venues
- 74 per cent say that their site makes it easy to find local tradespeople who can be trusted
- 92 per cent agree that people are helpful if someone seeks advice on their website

On average, 63% of people surveyed said their hyperlocal website was their main source of local news, compared with 11% who said their local newspaper. As we argue here, hyperlocal sites are the perfect vehicles for community engagement.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't look on other forums so can't comment about what is usual behaviour but one of the reasons I wouldn't want to meet people via the website is a reflection of some of the way people choose to communicate on it. Threads often descent into sniping, and aggression. Do i really want a drink with those people? maybe this doesn't happen as much on the east dulwich forum?

Brockley Nick said...

The scores overall were very positive and BC ranks top for its welcoming nature.

Occasionally there have been some silly arguments that have descended in to acrimony.

Mostly, I regard the arguments on here as precisely the kind of lively argument you'd get in a (good) pub, with Lou propping up the bar, shouting into middle distance.

Real communities have lots of arguments, it would be a dull, sanitised world if everyone politely agreed with each other all the time. I can see that bickering puts some people off, but I think overall that it makes for a much livelier and well-used site.

There are plenty of threads which are perfectly civil and / or contain little debate.

My bigger bugbear than aggression is grumpiness and a refusal to acknowledge facts which might not support one's arguments.

Anonymous said...

But the fact is, this website isn't a reflection of the community?

92% of those surveyed, white.
92% of those surveyed, have a degree.

In 2001 only 20% of the population had a degree or higher.

Mb said...

No, it's not representative in term of demographics. No one is pretending it is. Name one institution that reflects it's area perfectly. So long as those using it recognise it's limitations then that's fine.

Brockley Nick said...

Sure, fair point.

Three things:

Firstly, there's not really any such thing as a truly representative community forum - certainly not the local assemblies or civic societies. They're all self-selecting groups of people who are more than averagely engaged with their local community.

Secondly, the stats reflect the people willing to take part in the survey - people who I suspect only represent a certain section of BC readership.

Thirdly, this is work in progress. We're still growing, still diversifying in terms of contributors and content. The aim is to reach as big an audience as possible of people who are interested in Brockley life.

abw said...

I have a question - what steps will BC be taking to ensure that the forum is more representative of the community it claims to represent? 92% white is WAY off in a borough of 34%+ non white.

Brockley Nick said...

@abw - I'd welcome any suggestions

Anonymous said...

Mb see the heading of the article.

welcome to 2010 said...

doesn't say the whole of the community. it obviously strengthens the community. Just because not everyone reads it doesn't negate its value

Mb said...

i think we should remember that this is blog administered in Nick and others spare time. He can't promote the benefits of squid and kelp products and simultaneously run a global public service news site.

Mb said...

yes...has it weakened or had no effect on the community either way? No, it's strengthened it.

Brockley Nick said...

this kelp sells itself!

Mb said...

Shhhh! don't tell them! you should be saying that the kelp needs appropriate branding to appeal to the gulible DINKY demographic with money to burn... a service only YOU can provide.

Anonymous said...

"I have a question - what steps will BC be taking to ensure that the forum is more representative of the community it claims to represent? 92% white is WAY off in a borough of 34%+ non white."

Why should it have to?

darryl said...

"92% white is WAY off in a borough of 34%+ non white."

I believe the site is called Brockley Central, not "London Borough of Lewisham Central".

Interesting stats - I wonder if there's something the newer incumbents on council seats in the area can learn from in all that, for they seem a little more reticent than their predecessors.

Over here in Greenwich, most councillors for the ruling party can't speak without reference to the council press office - and the hyperlocal sites here have had huge trouble trying to get the council to participate. I'll have to wave those stats under their noses...

drakefell debaser said...

Abw, expecting the blog to evolve as you want without doing anything to help it evolve is the wrong approach to take. If you feel unrepresented then suggest a topic, contribute a story, a bit of news / gossip and tell your friends or family to join in the debates, polls, share ideas etc.

I think one of the strengths of BC is the lively debates that frequently take place and the ability to contribute, within reason, to them.

Other than that, can we lobby google to take the anonymous option off?

Tamsin said...

All any body which has limited resources of time and/or money can do to make itself more representative - Brockley Central or the Telegraph Hill Festival which has the same criticism regularly levelled at it - is to be friendly and welcoming and receptive of ideas. One can't MAKE people join in any game.

On demographics, Nick, what are the stats., if any, on the age range of users and visitors? In my work context we are looking at building up a project next year to break down the barriers to IT perceived by many of the elderly.

And the cap might fit so I'm trying it on - apologies for occasional grumpiness as that is your real bugbear, but I do try to accept facts and do feel that it contributes a bit of balance - one can't have everything sweetness and light.

Anonymous said...

this blog, and many others, are based on the vanity of the 'moderators' and contributors - there is nothing else to it - and it makes them very deeply unpleasant and a bar to genuine interaction - they are false.

But they do, however, shine a fascinating, if disturbing, light on that facet of human behaviour.

There are many local blogs that don't fall into this category - Transpontine amongst them.

Tamsin said...

OK, so don't play with us. There is room in the ether for all sorts.

Transpontine, is a different animal - none of the discussion that you find so obnoxious - possibly because as I understand it all posts are checked by the moderator in advance rather than removed (if offensive) retrospectively.

max said...

"But they do, however, shine a fascinating, if disturbing, light on that facet of human behaviour."

Not you of course, Mr I'm so much better than you.
It takes all sorts I guess, even prats.

Anonymous said...

This blog is almost completely unmoderated isn't it? There goes that theory.

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, we only moderate for abusive or potentially defamatory stuff. So anon, if you've had a comment deleted, that's why.

Transpontine is a fine blog, but it is much more heavily moderated than this, with the site's writer operating a policy of pre-approval of every comment.

abw said...

While many of your readers are well versed in the “postcard history” of Brockley less of you seem to understand the recent history. In the 70s there was NF graffiti on every available wall and head quarters in Chudleigh Rd. Early 80’s brought unrest over unfair and brutal SUS laws. 90s brought Tory MPs with false dreams of quick wealth who proved themselves to care little about us. Though all of this we have been underfunded and ignored. We have seen estates run down and/or sold off to the highest bidder who made their money and left. Our parents worked two jobs each to make sure we were well educated. And as a result many of us have stayed to teach in the excellent primary schools you now value. There has been massive improvements here and your doesnt recognise that.

Monkeyboy said...

I'd say that most people do challenge the daily express axis? How long do you have to live here before your opinion counts anyway?

abw said...

pt2
While many of your readers are well versed in the “postcard history” of Brockley less of you seem to understand the recent history. In the 70s there was NF graffiti on every available wall and head quarters in Chudleigh Rd. Early 80’s brought unrest over unfair and brutal SUS laws. 90s brought Tory MPs with false dreams of quick wealth who proved themselves to care little about us. Though all of this we have been underfunded and ignored. We have seen estates run down and/or sold off to the highest bidder who made their money and left. Our parents worked two jobs each to make sure we were well educated. And as a result many of us have stayed to teach in the excellent primary schools you now value. There has been massive improvements here and your doesnt recognise that.

abw said...

pt3

We didn’t improve things by pointing fingers at certain sections of the community and suggesting they are criminals. We didn’t do it by writing letters, we took to the streets to protest. We don’t really care as much about Victorian schools buildings as good schools. We don’t care if our neighbours have satellite dishes.
We welcome new cafes but not if we are stared at till our children ask why this is so. Its Brockley – get a grip. But most of all we don’t want to be DULWICH OR HAMPSTEAD. We are BROCKLEY and we are loyal and you must respect that. And that’s what I mean by Tone. And currently you have little to counter it but “doggers” and crude anonymous. I have tried but am depressed by the closed defensiveness (yeah I said it) that exists on this site. In Brockley we embrace ALL in our community and celebrate our diversity. (BTW anyone questioning local demographics will get a big shock in the 2011 census if they don’t believe ’01 figs) BC needs to do the same or it is mere arrogance to suggest “In terms of insights, the most glaring is that if Lewisham Councillors are keen to avoid smoke-filled protests outside the Town Hall, they should engage with voters via sites like this one”
Makes no sense if you don’t even slightly represent – as the local elections proved earlier this year. Embrace or stay in the bubble. Sort out the comments section they are off putting to everyone I have sent to this site
OK Bring the Bile

Anonymous said...

You kind of contradict your self. If you live here, pay tax here, educate your kids here then you are part of the community.

random thoughts said...

Brockley Central attracts the chattering classes - lots of people have an opinion on everything, but often they dash them off quickly, and they're capable of misinterpretation. Plus people feel free to be a lot ruder and more extreme on-line than they would be in real life. So on top of the genuine disagreements there's a huge haze of misunderstanding, accusation, counter-accusation and recrimination that just comes from the fact that the internet is not an ideal forum for constructive discussion and debate of issues about which people feel strongly. If you got the same people in a pub having a debate they'd (probably) be a lot more civilised about it.

Brockley Dogging Society said...

Well our membership has shot up since BC started, nick will always be VERY important to us. Can't imagine why he's not popped up to the tennis courts, go on.... Thursdays @ 01:00am

Brockley Nick said...

@abw - I don't understand how your latter posts relate to your original question about improving ethnic diversity.

A few points:

1. There are lots of people on BC who think the site is dominated by lefty vegans. There are also lots of people here who think the site is dominated by right-wing property speculators. There are also lots of people here who think it's dominated by old fogey conservationists.

The fact that all these contradictory beliefs co-exist is because BC is genuinely pluralistic.

For example, you seem to be suggesting that all the readers care about is what could broadly be described as the Brockley Society agenda - challenging the spread of satellite dishes and trying to prevent the redevelopment of historic buildings.

Actually, if you read the discussions, there are many people who argue vehemently against both of these policies and indeed, I argued against Broc Soc's approach to Gordonbrock and have said several times that I don't mind satellite dishes. So I don't know what you want me to do about the fact that some people who use the site disagree with me. Would you prefer that I delete their comments? That would do nothing to improve diversity.

Brockley Central is a broad church. Some people don't like that, because they prefer websites that reinforce their own political world view. The reason BC is so successful is precisely because it offers plurality of opinion, as your post ably demonstrates.

2. The second point I'd like to make is that if you look at the range of articles posted, most are of universal importance: local elections, transport developments, public spending, improvements to parks, streets, crime, local interest groups and so on. There is nothing inherently 'middle class' about any of those things.

I think the only area where you could reasonably accuse this site of having a bourgeois bias is in terms of the types of local businesses we discuss and promote. In this case, I am unashamedly elitist and so are the majority of people who post here (although by no means a large majority - there are many who criticise the BC obsession with delis, cafes, etc). Most people want these things, not because they have anything against newsagents, fish and chip shops and bookmakers, but because we have plenty of those already and people want something different - places where they want to spend their money. There are lots of empty units in Brockley, so attracting more upmarket businesses needn't involve the displacement of anyone.

This site rarely criticises existing local businesses, except in rare instances when I think they are not behaving a socially responsible manner.

3. As for not recognising massive improvements - I completely refute that. I am almost relentlessly upbeat about the area and the progress it has made. The majority of readers are very positive about their area - proud to live here, proud of what Brockley has to offer. But every place has room for improvement - if you want us to celebrate progress made already, why are you criticising those of us who want to see even more progress.

I said in my earlier response to you that I'd welcome suggestions on how to broaden BC's reach. I haven't seen any answers from you yet, other than to suggest that we censor free speech (to make discussions less off-putting to your friends) and narrow the range of topics discussed on the site (by ignoring issues like conservation.)

In the mean time, November was another record month, attracting more than 41,000 visitors.

tfp said...

Do you think more black people would read brockley central if all the articles were about the racism of the 70s and 80s? I don't.

There are lots of websites that do go on about racism and anti-fascism in Lewisham and they seem to be almost exclusively written and read by white folks.

Anonymous said...

About 95% of those participating in the demo at the town hall appear to have been white.

Anonymous said...

@Darryl

In Lewisham when Labour had a massive majority (2002-2006) on the council a complaint from newspaper editors was that Labour/council ran a very tight ship.

OK, there were dark forces at work ie Gavin Moore but even so I was able to get behind closed doors and eavesdrop.

Now one party again has a massive majority and the mayor has appointed to his cabinet, at extra cost to tax payers a member for 'communication'.

If that means all communication will be centrally controlled is unclear, and it must be galling to council staff to see the Mayor appoint two additional cronies to his cabinet.

abw said...

@brockley nick -" I don't understand how your latter posts relate to your original question about improving ethnic diversity."
U disappoint me This is not an issue of ethnic diversity this is an issue of community. You claim your site represents the community of Brockley. Yet the figures speak for themselves. It does not. It represents a small section of Brockley. One of the central characteristics of Brockley is its ability to truly embrace diversity of race, class, creed etc. If your site dosnt reflect the community within it sits it remains a bubble and serves no purpose in improving Brockley.

"if you want us to celebrate progress made already, why are you criticising those of us who want to see even more progress".
The arrogance of this statement astounds me. Where is the criticism? “Those of US…” What makes u think that only U want more progress? The reason I took time to share with your readers the recent history of Brockely was to demonstrate our desire and ability to improve our area. We have been improving and continue to improve despite the obstacles. This is not new to Brockley. It existed before most of your readers moved here(according to the survey).

Tamsin said...

One can't create a single "community" out of an area as geographically and culturally diverse as Brockley, and it would be a retrograde step to try to do so. All that is needed - and what this site is a major part of - is to improve information sharing, communications and relations between those communities so that individuals - as and when they want to - can slide up, down and sideways to get the best out of their home turf and enjoy all that living in a place such as Brockley offers.

Monkeyboy said...

So now group, sports club, school, choir, political institution has any legitamacy, usefulness or something useful to say unless it exactly reflect the demographics of the area? You talk about arogance, I've lived here for about 9 years, can I join the community please? I'm white (well, mediteranian) have a degree, my parent were cleaners, I'm left of center, like both fast food AND posh olives. Is there a test? Sounds like you have no interest in engaging with anyone that doesn't exactly align with your view....can you see the irony?

Brockley Nick said...

@abw

"You claim your site represents the community of Brockley."

No, I don't. I specifically and repeatedly claim that the site's readership is not fully representative of the community. I have written time and again about the fact that it isn't.

"If your site dosnt reflect the community within it sits it remains a bubble and serves no purpose in improving Brockley."

That's doesn't follow at all. Firstly, it is not a bubble - it is an open-access site, where people from any walk of life can and do comment, read and contribute articles. A greater proportion of those readers, commentators and contributors happen to be middle class and white, but that doesn't mean that it's in any way exclusive.

More importantly, just because it is better at reaching and engaging one part of the population than another, it doesn't mean that it serves no useful community purpose. If there was a site that provided local information only to the elderly population of Brockley, would you say it had no value? No, of course not.

The profile of the LVIG or BXAG membership is in no way representative of the local population either. Does that mean that the work they have done to plant flowers in the area is of no value? No, of course not.

What I am saying - and what the independent study says - is that while not perfect, sites like this do a lot of good and have the potential to do more good.

It's very simple - if you think this site should feature an article about the struggle against racism in the 1970s and 1980s, then write one and I will post it. Even if you just send me the details, I might even write it for you.

"The arrogance of this statement astounds me. Where is the criticism? “Those of US…” What makes u think that only U want more progress?"

Where is the criticism? You wrote a long article message saying that the site had an arrogant tone, was a bubble, covered issues that "WE" don't care about, had little to offer but jokes, etc.

You also wrote about "WE", as though you spoke for an entire unrepresented community - setting up a false "us and them" argument, so I find it odd you are now accusing me of arrogance for using the phrase "those of us".

You said that there were people who didn't want change - who wanted Brockley to remain the same. I do want (some) change. Hence the use of "those of us" - if you also want change then we are on the same side.

I never suggested that positive change only began when BC was born - that would be ridiculous.

I go back to the original question - if you want to improve the diversity (ethnic or otherwise) of the site's readership, please suggest some positive solutions.

And, despite the slightly jokey headline, the underlying argument of the study and the article is not that BC per se is the answer, but that hyperlocal sites in general are. So if you think that BC is such a travesty, start your own hyperlocal site. We could share stories and links. We could be blog buddies.

brrrrr said...

Don't forget to enjoy your holiday Nick :-)

Brockley Economist said...

@Nick

I think Abw criticism boils down to asking: "What do you think BC has actually acheived since it started (in the real world)?"

It is not clear that it serves as anything other than an entertaining diversion for those on a slow day at work (no bad thing, btw). As a tool for representative democracy or for making real-world improvements it seems a little weak. Feel free to correct me, with a several page list of stellar acheivements BC can put to its name.

Mb said...

Eh? Why does it have to do any thing in "the real world" it's a forum to have a gas. Actually a very good thing in an impersonal city. I've found tradesmen, gone to the max, found three great shops, met some peeps on here - mostly sane. How many local events have been boosted by BC? 41000 visits a month is 41000 small bits on engagement in an area, no matter how limited

Brockley Nick said...

@Brockley Economist - that's not my understanding of abw's point at all.

But on that matter, I think that BC has five roles to play:

1. Recruitment and promotion

There are lots of local volunteer groups, events organisers and businesses that have said that BC is a very useful way of finding volunteers, promoting their events and services to local customers.

The Council clearly feel that it is a useful way of communicating local initiatives (such as local Assemblies) and issues too, which is why they provided the quote at the start of the article.

2. Peer-2-peer recommendations

Increasingly, BC users recommend reliable trade service providers and share useful information such as travel advice, planning, etc.

3. Lobbying

BC has obviously helped to lobby the Council on a range of issues, such as removing the railings on Brockley Road, taking action against illegal parking in Brockley Cross, resolving the issues that threatened to prevent the Tea Leaf Gallery from opening and hopefully, the part pedestrianisation of Coulgate Street and the remodelling of Brockley Cross pedestrian crossings. The first two were essentially BC campaigns, the other examples were the work of others that we helped to promote and show support.

4. Promotion and information

One of the main reasons we started the site was because there was next to nothing online about Brockley and its many attractions. BC is now a very detailed resource for people to learn more about the area - I've had lots of emails from people who've found it to be a very useful resource in encouraging them to move to the area. The map and listings sections of the sites are among the most popular.

5. Events

Admittedly we don't do a huge number of these, but we have organised a number of drinks nights, two live music events and one local business networking event. I hope people have enjoyed these events and that they have also helped the local bars that they have taken place in.

In some ways, these are by-products of the site, rather than the main reason for doing it. I consider people learning more about the place they live in, feeling closer to their neighbours and enjoying themselves to be the most valuable outcome of all. The stats in the study prove that it does that.

Anonymous said...

Wonders if MonkeyBoy is a Greece Monkey...boom, boom.

Brockley Nick said...

Quick extra point, above all else, BC is just a channel - a platform for public opinion to express itself. So it's not a question of asking what has BC done, but what have local people used it for.

This is where I think abw's point come's in - if it's a platform to gauge public opinion then its value is limited if it does not accurately represent the community. This is a challenge. I maintain that despite its flaws, it is the most representative forum that Brockley (and probably even Lewisham) has - but there is much work to do.

I agree with abw's aims, but I don't think that should render its value null and void, nor do I agree with the limited advice that has been offered - limiting discussion and censoring free speech is not, in my view, a good way forward.

The easiest solution would be for groups who do not feel their voice is being heard to take matters in to their own hands and submit articles / speak up. But those interest groups have, in turn, to be tolerant of those that do not share their political worldview or their background. Challenging the validity of a site because there are too many 'newcomers' or people interested in topics such as local conservation (who are generally people who have been living in the area for many years)is not helpful either. Throwing up your hands in disgust because you read comments by people who do not share your politics is wrong too. If you disagree with someone you can challenge them, ignore them and make your own point or walk away and seek solace in a forum where everyone thinks as you do - but if you choose the third course, you forfeit your right to complain that your voice is not being heard.

Anonymous said...

PLease Help
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1335550/Merry-Christmas-Along-millions-middle-class-families-I-afford-says-CHARLOTTE-METCALF.html

Pete said...

Just thought I'd write and stick up both for Nick and this blog.

Whilst it hasn't changed the world it has driven custom to new shops, organised some fun events and raised awareness of things that people can volunteer at.

The fact that it hasn't been able to include every single social group in Brockley isn't necessarily the fault of the blog; engagement is a two way street.

Tamsin said...

Exactly - with anything, especially if run by volunteers, if you make no effort to push at an open door you can't complain about being excluded.

I've found this blog great fun and also useful. Up to date info on specific traffic and travel problems and news on water cut-offs that saved me and/or Oak Hill repeating fruitless enquiries.

Also all sorts of events etc. that I would not otherwise have known about and, again, that I can pass on to others who might be interested.

Latest Tweets

Brockley Central Label Cloud

Click one of the labels below to see all posts on that subject. The bigger the label, the more posts there are!