Madwblog – a newborn blog serving an historically rich community

By Helen Reid | 4th Apr 2016

Clayhanger boasts the title of village, has two churches, one school, a community centre, a common and a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It comes under the jurisdiction of Walsall Council in the West Midlands and sits snug against the border with Staffordshire.

Clayhanger shares an administrative ward with Brownhills and, whilst only a mile apart, the two are quite different. In a nutshell, Brownhills is known historically for light industry and Clayhanger for, well, clay – which was excavated and transported to the Potteries in Stoke along the ubiquitous canal which almost makes an island of the village surrounding it, as it does, on three sides. Clayhanger was also once a literal tip and a pig farm and the stench, although now gone, is long-held in the memory of those who experienced it. A disused railway line which once transported coal, now acts as a cycle route and popular walk connecting Clayhanger to neighbouring conurbations.

Bringing together old and new Clayhanger

More recent history brings the dawn of the ‘new’ estates, on one of which I have lived for 18 years. The new housing development trebled the size of 12768065_1094683243907216_575276117_o (1)the village, brought units for shops and the extension of the village primary school which contains, uniquely, Holy Trinity Church. There has, ever since, been talk of ‘old’ and ‘new’ village, but all ‘Clangers’ (residents of Clayhanger) get along peacefully enough.

With the rapid growth of the village, residents old and new were flung together from far and wide, bringing and beginning families, skills and differing working patterns. Madwblog aims to let residents know about what is currently happening in their village, the different trades and businesses of people who live there, the history of the village and to raise awareness of local issues. So far, madwblog has covered topics such as illegal encampments and a proposed road closure, loitering, escaping horses and award-winning floristry. Madwblog has arranged a successful litter pick with another scheduled, brought Clayhanger into a project to create a tapestry celebrating local history in Walsall and most recently informed residents about the use of Nitrous Oxide as a popular party ‘legal high’ after puzzled villagers were finding little silver canisters around Clayhanger.

Beginning with people

The pieces I write for madwblog generally begin with people. I like people and I like to listen to what they have to say. The pieces I write almost take a narrative form, and I don’t take myself too seriously. ‘Chatty over a cup of tea’ is the style I go for. My aim is to be informative, engaging and balanced.

I keep track of what is happening on social media and use that as a starting point for finding content for writing. The blog also has a contact form, which one or two readers have used to raise a question – such as litter – which I have then included in the blog. A neighbouring well-established blogger – Brownhills Bob – writes extensively about local history and I have re-blogged several of his articles on Clayhanger history. If there is something which is being discussed a lot on social media I get in touch directly with the person (usually via Facebook) who seems to be most active or vocal about it. Having lived in Clayhanger for 18 years, had two children who attended the primary school and worked there myself for 5 years, I know a good many of the residents and this really helps when asking if people will talk to me. I had already established a connection with a Local Councillor as I had been discussing local issues with him and his predecessor for over a year. In addition, a Walsall Council Area Manager is very active and keen to talk to residents about issues and she has provided much help and support. Because I am writing about ongoing issues in many cases, I decided to do a weekly round-up at the weekend, where I review articles from that week and give an update if a situation has changed or if there has been a particular reaction on social media. In future I plan to provide this as an email subscription service using Mailchimp.

I promote Madwblog via Facebook and Twitter. Brownhills Bob, a blogger of some 7 years, has been a great support and shares all of madwblog’s posts and gives me his honest opinion on my writing and advice he wishes he’d had when he first began! Since the first post on 11th February, madwblog has received 3,200 views and 1,600 visitors.

Looking to the future

DSC_0004_2I have an ever-growing list of subjects I would like to write about and I am not short of content. What I am short of is time! I would like others to contribute as authors and expand into a website for Clayhanger rather than simply a blog. I would also like to produce a printed version perhaps fortnightly, mainly because there is an older demographic in the village who are not connected via social media, but also because the case studies on C4CJ’s Community Journalism course have shown that print is still popular and it has a tactile permanence about it which digital media does not.

Madwblog is not just news, it’s communication. Through communication, I hope madwblog will strengthen the sense of community already very present in Clayhanger. As well as reassuring analytics, I have had people compliment the blog to me face to face. Even positive data does not boost the writer’s self-esteem in the same way as a direct positive comment.

Blogging is the answer – who cares what the question is?!

Helen Reid is the founder of Madwblog. 

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