The old OpenlyLocal map only had about 5 sites for Devon, mainly the defunct ‘Local People’ franchise. This couldn’t be right for England’s second largest county. Devon has a strong tradition of local pride in place and its rural nature meant there are obvious advantages to having websites for local civic life. As well as a healthy tourist industry for which search now seems to be mainly online.
We’ve been writing about our work to improve the LocalWebList map. So to fill in this blank space on the map I started Googling place names and following links around Dartmoor, where I knew of one independent site Talk About Local worked with some years ago in Moretonhampstead. After a while, this led me to a resource on the Devon County council website attempting to list Devon’s local websites. Which in an exercise like this is hitting paydirt. So I followed the links on the DCC site, make a quick assessment of what I find there, add it to LocalWebList, then in each site look for outgoing links to other hyperlocal sites. I haven’t yet finished but have added in over 100 sites so far, including some in North West Somerset. Some observations on the sites I mapped in this exercise:
they are nearly all village sites, orientated around the parish council or other local committee such as a hall, many dating from five years ago or more, with occasional updating (monthly or quarterly it feels to me, some annually). This can be very rich (see this site for Belstone) but this type tends not to have a journalistic ‘news’ component.
almost all these sites serve a basic transparency role that could only otherwise be served by visiting in person the parish clerk at their home or the church hall. They provide on demand information resource that otherwise is constrained by time, place and networks. Given the highly rural nature of these areas with low population densities having an online information point adds considerable value if it prevents a journey or otherwise lowers the threshold to getting hold of information.
they also provide basic information about village life that to my mind contributes to bridging social capital by connecting people together (church, institutes, clubs for parents, activities for older people, nature). And would help visitors and new arrivals as a community welcome pack.
some are quite eccentric in web design terms, there are one or two mini groups done by the same web developer for adjacent villages/parishes.
these sites are basic village information sites, run by local people. i have included one or two (very) small town websites that are clearly locally important and more professional, but aren’t .gov.uk
there is often a mild to moderate tourism element, given the areas involved. I have not been including out-and-out tourism sites with no civic nor journalistic components.
maybe only one or two of these sites have interesting discussion or place to challenge civic authority on them.
active ‘news’ on these sites as a newsy person would recognise it is rare. There is a scattering across Devon of relatively weak websites from small local Tindle group papers.
I would expect there to be some Facebook action that runs in parallel for some of these sites, but it isn’t clearly flagged up from the sites themselves. There is a very good example in UpLyme. I have come across only a few references to Twitter from these sites such as the very good Dartmoor NPA and Belstone again but there must be more hyperlocal Twitter action out there.
none of the sites I have mapped in this exercise seem to be as active as the UK’s class leading village website Parwich.org up in the Peak District.
the tedium of this exercise (as Johnson said of making dictionaries, it is dull work) was lessened by the discovery of my favourite place name Zeal Monachorum.
There’s still more to do, I haven’t yet finished going through the Devon CC list. And I notice that in Cornwall there is a list of parish clerk contact details which often gives away the presence of a local website with a bespoke URL in the clerk’s email address. So I shall plough through this when I have time. Many counties publish parish clerk/council details so this could be a route to follow elsewhere.