Friday, 19 September 2014

Why Paul Deach is a Real Local Hero

I am not someone who tends to lavish praise on people without good reason to. In fact I think most people who know me would view me as a critic rather than someone who regularly doles out praise - perhaps I am too critical sometimes..

But casting aside my own reputation for a moment, frankly I think Paul Deach’s efforts and the consequent reputation that he has built over the last few years deserve some real recognition. I will explain as follows.

Paul, who originally comes from Manchester, lives in Deepcut near Camberley with his wife and daughter and works part time for the NHS. He is also a local Councillor.

A few years ago Paul setup something called the Surrey Heath Residents Network which is essentially an Internet based news and information resource for local people, organisations and businesses. Now that probably doesn’t sound too exciting so far. There are a lot of websites and organisations that attempt to do the same thing. The difference is that Paul’s works brilliantly and the approach and ethics that motive him really set it apart.

Paul envisaged, setup and runs the Surrey Heath Residents Network entirely on his own and provides a steady of torrent of news and information about local events, activities and important information on a very localised basis.

At the centre of the network is the Surrey Heath Residents Blog - a regularly updated website, supported by a Facebook page, Twitter Account, YouTube Channel and Email mailing list. Whatever local people’s social media preference may be, they can receive regular updates on all the local news and current events. As well as delivering a steady torrent of written articles, Paul also produces well produced and edited videos, high quality photography and audio pod-casts.

But most importantly it provides a really high quality service. If a local event is coming up you will hear about it via the network before it happens, if you can’t make it to the event, you will be able to see Paul’s pictures and videos about it anyway. If a local emergency occurs Paul will let you know about it, and if, god-forbid someone local’s child goes missing Paul will spread the news in hours and hundreds of eyes will be on the lookout.

Paul jokingly describes his religious views on his Facebook profile as ‘Jedi’ and describes himself as a ‘Jedi Master of Community Spirit’. They, whoever they are, do say self-praise is no recommendation. But in this case it stands because that is exactly what Paul is. Equipped with his iPhone, MP3 recorder and laptop, if not his light-sabre, Paul provides an extraordinarily comprehensive and pervasive service to his local community. Despite his roots being in the North of England, Paul has put down his own and is deeply committed to his local community and to helping and informing local people.

But there is also a broader perspective to this.

Having worked in the IT and media industry for some years I have watched with dismay and surprise the steady collapse of local media over the last 10-20 years – i.e. local and regional newspapers.

Rather than grasping the opportunity that the Internet and associated technologies provided, the local news organisations just carried on doing the same old thing in the same old way seemingly unaware that the advertising model that supported them was changing. One by one, they have fallen away leaving very few in operation and those that remain with greatly diminished resources and subsequently reduced quality – making them ever less appealing.

As a result, news delivery is now predominantly national or special interest. In other words you get your news from your national newspapers or their website or social media outlet, national TV companies or from special interest publications or sites.

So how do you stay connected with your local community, it’s issues and events? How do you get that sense of belonging and involvement that being informed and participating provides?

You don’t.

So when you need help, or advice or ideas or support locally where do you turn?

But then perhaps you haven’t needed these things and you don’t care. Perhaps in this commuter-belt area you don’t need to care. So long as you catch the 7.15am to Waterloo and watch News at Ten before bed you feel happy and informed.

I would contend that you should care. Because the place in which you live, is the community for your family, even if you only spend weekends in it. And the more people that are involved and informed about local issues, the more impetus there is behind efforts and initiatives to deal with problems and improve local quality of life.

But without that flow of information how are you ever going to know what’s going on, what’s important, what needs doing and where you can get a real sense of glowing satisfaction from having helped make your little part of the world a better place..?

And that is why what Paul is doing is so important.

He has not following a template that others have determined. He has ploughed his own furrough. Worked out his own business model, overcome the obstacles and just got on and done it – brilliantly.

Paul has funded the entire operation himself and supports the running costs of the site by enabling local businesses to promote themselves on his site – again a really valuable service for businesses with a local customer base.

That’s why I think Paul is a trail-blazing hero who deserves some recognition, not just for his community minded spirit, but for actually getting on and doing it rather than sitting around and thinking about it.

But I am also deeply enthused by what Paul has done because it is a great demonstration of how to provide the missing link for active local democracy and local accountability. It's striking to note how little interest there is in the Local Police and Crime Commissioners we had the opportunity to elect in 2012 or how disinterested the electorate was in having elected Regional Assemblies back in 2004 - only around 20 odd percent of people voted to have them - a complete failure.

Now consider the Scottish Referendum and the changes that have occurred in Scotland culminating in a seismic political event yesterday - albeit with a less dramatic outcome than was possible. As was pointed out by some sharp-eyed commentator during the campaign, this could never have happened before the large Scottish media outlets (newspapers etc) started producing Scottish editions. The flow of 'localised news' created a notion of self-interest and awareness that people responded to in large numbers. Be you a Yes or No supporter, you surely have to applaud a successful democratic process in which a majority of people decide on something which will critically affect their lives..

All the best Paul. I know you will find this blog-post a bit of a surprise but I genuinely admire what you have achieved so far and what I think is the further limitless scope for what you are doing.


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