The Hastings Independent will be celebrating its six-month anniversary this Friday 15th August when its 12th issue returns hot off the press.
The fortnightly paper is a non-profit venture run entirely by local volunteers – writers, editors, photographers, designers and distributors. It was conceived in a pub, as all the best ideas are, and has grown rapidly. It expanded from 16 pages to 20 pages two months ago, and plans to increase its current print run of 10,000 to 13,000 as soon as finances allow.
Hastings has welcomed the paper with open arms, with letters and emails flooding in and more volunteers turning up to the public news meetings each week, asking how they can get involved.
And that’s the plan, says Sam Kinch, one of the paper’s four directors: “I see the Independent as a mouthpiece for the town, to give people a voice to air their views, to take a stand or even just to share gardening tips. But more than that I see it as a vehicle for community-led regeneration.”
For some of the team, setting up the paper has meant learning a whole new set of skills – for example the chief designer, Joseph Gregory, who taught himself to use InDesign and the intricacies of newspaper layout.
Others have taught themselves and one another how to write and edit news. For those trying to build up their CVs, it has provided an opportunity to build up portfolios of published articles and gain insight into the journalism industry – experience that is increasingly hard to access in mainstream journalism.
However, there have been challenges – the biggest, of course, being money. While the paper has applied for and been awarded some grants, so far the £700 a month printing costs have been funded mainly through advertising sales and fundraising, leading to several white-knuckle press days. But with new and repeat advertisers steadily coming on board, and the introduction of new sponsorship packages for local businesses, the finances are slowly stabilising.
“There have been times when we didn’t think we’d make it,” says Cathy Relf, one of the paper’s volunteers. “But with a bit of determination and a fantastic and expanding team, we’ve got stronger and stronger. Getting to six months is a fantastic achievement, and the reader feedback makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
There are big plans for the next six months, including a stall at Brighton University’s Freshers’ Fair, collaboration with a group of year 12 and 13 students at Parkwood 6th Form College, an art auction at the Crown in September and the much-requested addition of a sports page. Watch this space!