It’s been such a bumpy year that we missed an important date – this website’s 10th birthday. The Charlton Champion began as an experiment on October 18, 2010. Could a small slice of SE London sustain a hyperlocal website? A decade on, we’re still here. Site founder DARRYL CHAMBERLAIN looks back and says thank you.
Strange time to have a birthday – we couldn’t even meet up in the pub. But here we are, marking 10 years since The Charlton Champion appeared for the first time. Whether you began reading last week or were here when we published 10 good things about Charlton, thank you for reading.
In publishing terms, we’ve survived despite a revolution. During 2010, a rash of hyperlocal – strictly speaking, aimed at a small geographical area – websites sprang up in London. I was still running 853.london more or less as a personal blog, and had always wondered whether Charlton could sustain something of its own. So I gave it a go. The local papers weren’t great, even then, and there was a terrible weekly council propaganda rag, Greenwich Time. There was no way it could be worse than them.
Many of those other websites are long gone – their owners lost interest or moved, or readers weren’t interested – but we’ve survived. Our first big story – Greenwich Council’s plan to stop funding Maryon Wilson animal park – got us ahead of the pack. Back then, the local press was competition – and amazingly, they did appear to take us seriously. A Charlton edition of the Mercury was briefly launched, showing the commercial acumen which would later kill off the whole paper. And the News Shopper experimented with a Charlton Live website, which quickly turned up its toes. Now the Mercury has gone, barely missed, and few noticed the Greenwich print edition of the Shopper disappearing earlier this year. We don’t have a traditional local media left any more.
Instead, we’ve got Twitter, Facebook and Nextdoor, and those who feed from them. Social media has become an existential threat to any form of sustainable independent local publishing and to a certain extent we’re here in spite of them, not because of being able to promote our site on them. It’s striking how many do huge favours for these American giants by regularly sharing their news with them, giving them material to sell advertising around. Then they wonder why the local media struggles. A couple of years ago, I wrote to the local police to suggest they share their crime messages with us rather than on a registration-only social media site. I didn’t even get a reply.
The Champion has kept going with lots of help, for which I’m hugely grateful. The readers who pay into PressPatron each month help us cover the bills; without Neil Clasper’s much-appreciated help in recent years, this site would probably have closed. It’s been a real treat to host Kevin Nolan’s Charlton Athletic match reports after growing up reading his write-ups in the Mercury. Champion alumni have done well – Linzi Kinghorn, who helped in the early days, is now at BBC Radio Solent; Matt Clinch is now an early riser with CNBC. Lara Ruffle Coles has gone higher than any of us, blogging from all the way up Shooters Hill. More help is always appreciated; and if you’re studying for a journalism qualification and can bring some ideas we can offer you a place to practice your skills and get a few bylines.
We’re remained unashamedly parochial – the odd sally towards Mycenae House or East Greenwich Pleasaunce notwithstanding, we don’t feature anything more than a few minutes’ walk from the boundaries of SE7; the point of this has been to help people discover their own neighbourhood, not to get in their cars or on the bus and head off elsewhere. It’s come into its own in a pandemic when people are urged to stay at home. But this does mean some fringe issues, such as the Silvertown Tunnel and Ikea, have never had the showing they maybe should have done here, because they’ve been covered for 853 instead.
We’ve also tended to ignore the retail parks, even though if we slavishly covered their ins and outs we’d have healthier page views. (Our most-read stories were the ones we did around the opening of Ikea.) Most can’t even be bothered to acknowledge they’re in Charlton, and the retail parks’ design make them outwardly hostile to anyone trying to walk there. Indeed, the traffic-clogged Greenwich Shopping Park is one of the worst neighbours you could hope to have. (Fun fact: it was wondering why the hell the council was still allowing retail parks on the riverside that got me digging around local issues.) Primark Charlton invited us to their opening, though, and were absolutely lovely. And they don’t pretend to be in Greenwich either.
We kicked off with a 10 great things about Charlton list; it’d need some updating now. Blackheath FC sloped off to Eltham a few years ago, so they’re out. The Old Cottage Cafe would definitely be in there, we’d have to find room for the Village Greengrocers. The skate park has proved more popular than its backers ever hoped, and is attracting an increasingly diverse crowd – a relief after a truly dispiriting squabble over its construction. Charlton Lido has come into its own, and I suspect those who took lockdown walks there would add Maryon Wilson Animal Park. The White Swan would have been in there had it not closed with remarkably fortunate timing – its closure was the biggest non-Ikea story we’ve run on the site, a testament to the amazing work put into the place before the rent got too much.
We’ve never been an uncritical cheerleader. Just as 10 years ago, the state of The Village remains a worry – is it us or are there more closed shops than open ones now? And what’s the plan for its future? We may be “defiantly unfashionable” (all the hipsters moved to Catford instead) but austerity, insularity and complacency continue to hold our neighbourhood back – thousands of people have moved into Charlton in the past decade and more will come, many with expertise and experience of other parts of London: where are the forums for them to feed in their ideas?
Relations with the council are better than they were 10 years ago (remember the “Royal Greenwich Lido” fiasco?); but we’re still a neighbourhood that has things done to us rather than having things done with us. If we’re to see The Village – and more besides – out of the doldrums, that has to change. For our part, we’ll keep trying to alert you to things when we can, though we’re sometimes the last to know too.
What about the next 10 years? After a few false starts, it’s highly likely we’ll have a couple of thousand new Charlton residents down by the river – the biggest question is which will get planning permission first; closely followed by whether government changes to planning laws will completely screw up a carefully-calibrated masterplan. Hopefully we can avoid the huge mistakes being made on the Greenwich Peninsula and – even worse – across the river in Silvertown, and create a community that knits into the 9,000 existing households in Charlton. Plus we’ll have a rebuilt Morris Walk Estate next to Maryon Park – the designs look good, though developer Lovell could learn a thing about talking to the community.
Transport and infrastructure is going to remain an issue – especially with a new bit of Charlton appearing. Chronic rat-running to and from the retail parks and may see the introduction of low-traffic neighbourhoods if the council has the courage – while with even more development on the peninsula, it may be time to accept that North Greenwich tube station just ain’t all that convenient any more. And will a cycle lane on the Woolwich Road lure you into getting on your bike?
Thousands of new residents could also be an opportunity for local media – I knocked up a small print version of The Charlton Champion on an InDesign course a couple of years back and it looked great. But I juggle this with two part-time roles that can balloon out across the week, Neil squeezes his work here with a full-time job and a family. Time and resources will always be a major issue – but with enough people on board, we could do something special if there’s the demand.
And with that, time to kick 2020 into the bin where it belongs, but raise a glass to 10 years of The Charlton Champion. Here’s to the future.
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