As with all stories, everyone who was there will have different memories of how we got here. On the anniversary of our first edition, we look at what being a Central Bylines volunteer means to us.
I still have to pinch myself when I see what we’ve achieved in a year: 270K views, 307 articles from 90 different writers, a technical team to run the website, and a great social media team that have built up nearly 8000 followers on both Facebook and Twitter, plus an Instagram presence. Very impressive for part-time volunteers.
The Central Bylines journey
How did we get here? I wish it was a great story. In reality, it was much more mundane. My memory is sitting in a zoom meeting of the East Midlands European Movement chairs in mid-2020. Covid had robbed us of the chance to get out and talk to people. We were disillusioned with the reporting of local and national issues in the mainstream media and wondering what to do.
We had been aware of Byline Times and the regional Yorkshire Bylines, both of which had a refreshing approach to reporting both national and local issues. We talked about it for several months before a small group of us took the plunge and asked if we could become part of the growing Bylines family. We were accepted and East Midlands Bylines was formed.
The first six months were hard, but we were provided with a website template from March for Change and some support from the always-helpful Yorkshire Bylines. We did everything online, which was difficult when we were bringing together a lot of new people, and started to build a network of writers and resources. We grew and started to gain traction but it was hard work and took a lot of time.
Sometimes the way to grow is to expand and in February 2021 we did exactly that. We expanded to cover West Midlands and renamed ourselves Central Bylines. We also adopted a fantastic new logo of Æthelflæd, the warrior Queen who united the Midlands. This was disputed by our Lincolnshire contingent but it was too good a logo to pass up. Æthelflæd now sits on top of everything we produce as a reminder that we can be united again.
With the merger came more writers, more support and more social media presence. This enabled us to accelerate our growth and start some regular items like the Largan List and Carrie Antoinette’s Dead Cat Diary. Every month we grow faster and faster and I wonder what will be said at our next anniversary.
So what does Central Bylines mean to me?…. Well before I fess up here are the thoughts of some of the people who have got us this far.
I’d been heavily involved in politics for many years, especially during and after the referendum. After standing for parliament at the last two elections, I became very disillusioned and stepped away from politics.
Central Bylines has filled the void that was left and has given me a new lease of life. It lets me use my voice once again to try to make a positive difference, sharing thoughts and opinions in a less partisan way than traditional tribal politics. It’s great to have found a new family where we can all nurture each other’s talents in such incredibly crazy times.
I have lived most of my fifty-four years with a vague sense that I’m in the wrong place. I’m a natural-born ‘woke’. Not only that, I’m a third generation immigrant – my grandparents fled Mussolini’s regime in the 1920s. I live in England but I place myself squarely on the spectrum of history and culture that is shared by every European person.
I grew up in one of those areas that would elect a mop if you stuck a blue rosette on it. An area which falls within the top 10% most deprived areas in England yet is overlooked by Baron Kingsdown, the former governor of the Bank of England, whose estate has an Eton Fives court and several miles of miniature railway. And everyone thinks that’s fine. An area that is 96% white but has a fit of existential terror should a brown person be seen out in public. I love my people there but it has never felt like home.
My working life was an improvement but still, I found myself largely out of step with everyone else. I love the NHS and I loved my colleagues (well, most of them), but my vague sense of being in the wrong place just wouldn’t go away.
One year ago, I started writing for the Bylines Network – East Midlands Bylines, which then became Central. For the first time in my life, I find myself working with a group of people for whom ‘wokeness’ is a natural state. Who, as a matter of course, feel that openness and curiosity, tolerance and compassion are where we should be going and what we should be doing. Who don’t just moan but try to change.
I heard from a friend in February about Central Bylines. I have found the group very interesting, helpful and I share the same values. I am delighted to learn more about how my articles can be improved.
I enjoy writing and most of the time I think about what I will write whilst walking up our hills. Though I stop to lean on a gate and press the keys!
The breadth of articles is fascinating, some very local, others more global.
Occasionally, I draw an appropriate picture which I enjoy instead of drawing the postcard framed paintings I sell for local charities.
The pleasure of seeing the article printed is good and some people enjoy them! My son (an English teacher), my brother (a Manchester University Prof ), my journalist godson and my neighbour (who has travelled the world with her tourist leadership) all very kindly seem to enjoy the reading.
Central Bylines gives me a practical opportunity to contribute socially and politically to the kind of country I want to live in. It helps to give me a voice.
For me, it has transformed the casual and often brief interactions with people of a similar political outlook (eg on social media, at marches) into a sustainable community, a rallying place, where we can argue our views and draw attention to political misbehaviour.
Whilst I work more on the technical side, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to write some articles and book reviews.
My favourite articles are the ones that highlight how national political decisions affect us locally.
As a musician, I found this article on the new barriers to music – caused by Brexit – especially interesting.
If we are to progress socially and make our country a better place to live for everyone, we need to help report and inform objectively. Where it is necessary, we hold those in positions of authority to account. Central Bylines gives me a direct way to do that.
To quote campaigning lawyer Peter Stefanovic, “I truly believe we should always follow our hearts and do what we know to be right. It’s one reason I find it incomprehensible many will not call out this Government’s lies. What I do know is many of us have come together to right that wrong and together we can make a difference.”
Central Bylines is a group of people who have come together in the past year to challenge those lies about Brexit, PPE and the NHS and expose the hypocrisy of the government. They are passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated to making a difference. It’s a privilege to be involved.
I can’t quite remember how I got involved with the Bylines, but I was there from the start. Initially, we decided to split East and West Midlands, East Midlands launched whilst West Midlands remained in the planning phase. I was thrilled when Andy called me at the start of 2020 and we merged to form Central Bylines.
I think the name was suggested by me and we love it. The awesome Æthelflæd logo by Jayson really topped it off, made even better since she lived and died there and it is spot bang in the middle of our region! I look after the social media side and love to grow our pages and presence which is going great, look out for some large growth in the back end of 2021 going into 2022! We are here to stay!
Being involved in such a publication means the world to me, it’s great when a story really takes off and it is great that we have a voice. We are not really left or right at Central Bylines, we rather like to think of ourselves as centrists. In my mind we actually represent the majority.
We aim in our small way to represent the truth via citizen journalism and give a voice to the people via a larger platform that we hope to develop. Watch this space and don’t forget that you can have your voice via firstname.lastname@example.org! Get involved, we welcome new writers, cartoonists, editors etc!
We at European Movement Derbyshire had been discussing some kind of local paper as a way to try and break out of the pro-EU bubble but the logistics were daunting. Then we spotted the success of Yorkshire Bylines, and I made contact with Louise Houghton via an admin in a Whatsapp group. From there, a meeting with other East Midlands European Movement chairs led to the set up of a group to launch East Midlands Bylines, which then took over the whole Central region.
It’s timely. The problem is no longer pro or anti-European Union. We have a government that is attacking our democracy, our rights, our legal systems and threatening our way of life. And where the media can conspire with the government, it can also hold them to account. This is our job and we have a great team of citizen journalists at work (but we need you, too).
Time to fess up – So what does being part of Central Bylines mean to me?
I’m proud to be part of a project that is bringing a different view of the news to a wide audience.
I’m proud to have met such a great group of people, and I hope that I’ll see you all in person soon rather than on zoom.
I’m proud that we’ve had some great articles, from local village issues to regional, national and international stories, each with a different view reflecting our values and beliefs.
I’m proud that we’re part of the larger Bylines Networks and look forward to growing so that Central is delivering not just the news online, but in podcasts, TV and whatever media comes next. Most of all, after a year of tech support and providing encouragement, I’m proud that I’ve just written my first article. I hope you liked it and I’m proud of all the input from those I now like to call friends.