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Dragon Interview: Cliff Hackett, Founder, Editor and Publisher of “Roundabout Effingham” and the “Bulletin”

Published on: 1 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 3 Nov, 2020

Cliff Hackett explains why he created his successful newsletters and how he views their future. Interviewed by Chris Dick

Cliff Hackett

What made you wish to become a parish councillor?

That’s a question my wife would like the answer to, and six years on I don’t think I really have an answer. I’ll let you know if I ever work it out.

What made you decide to produce a new magazine for Effingham and what were your objectives?

That, Chris, is something for which you must accept some responsibility. Back in 2016, your article on poor use of village notice-boards led to formation of a parish council communications working group. Cllr Alison Mayall showed us a copy of “Ripley and Send Matters”, a magazine produced not 100 miles away. This struck me as an ideal model on which to build, self-funding so not a burden on the council taxpayer.

Produced by a community group for community groups, it had local buy-in, with a proportion of advertising lower than commercial magazines of its type, making it a good read, and being distributed through letterboxes by a small army of volunteers.

The objective was to provide a vehicle for our community groups and organisations, as well as local businesses, to reach our local population. And now having been successfully transitioned to become a Community Interest Company that ensures it remains non-political.

Roundabout Effingham magazine

But a website could do that. Why a magazine?

First, we wanted to reach those who struggle with the internet or choose not to use it, but fundamentally there is a deeper reason. I worked in the computer industry from the early Eighties through inception of the internet. From the early days of search engines, it’s been easier to find the information you want (as long as you know where and how to look).

But what about the information of which you’re unaware? A magazine can quickly present you with a menu of articles to whet your appetite, as it were. Browsing a website, on the other hand, can be a very time-consuming exercise, moving up and down links seldom sure you haven’t missed something. I’d say I can skim in five minutes a magazine that a website might take 20 to navigate.

What made you think you could make it self-funding.

Back in the Nineties, I lived in Walton-on-the-Hill and became involved in the organisation of the Walton May Fayre. On learning the Fayre’s programme was running at a significant loss I took on its production. With access to desktop publishing through work, and coupled with my sales training, the next issue of the programme was effectively wrapped around a local trade directory and turned a respectable profit. I believe that publication is still produced and some of the adverts are virtually unchanged.

How many copies do you circulate, what areas do you cover and how far beyond Effingham do you want the circulation to go in the future?

Some background before I answer that. Effingham very much lives on the border. We are at the most eastern edge of Guildford, bordering Mole Valley, with roads where the boundary runs down the centres, and two different dustbin lorries arrive on different days.

We are between the two much larger retail and population centres of the Bookhams and the Horsleys, and for “High Street” shopping, Cobham, Leatherhead, Guildford and Epsom present themselves.

Our community groups and businesses need to attract people from these larger centres. By a similar token, their businesses and community groups are of interest to our residents. You and I live less than half-a-mile apart as the crow flies but, by a quirk of Royal Mail delivery rounds, you in KT24 receive a different local commercial magazine than I do in KT23.

By producing a magazine which transcends these artificial boundaries we can serve everybody. Our delivery volunteers make this possible, and we owe them a lot.

So, back to your question. We produce about 2,500 copies of the magazine with, in round terms, 1,000 going to Effingham, 500 to Little Bookham and 500 around Effingham Junction. The remaining 500 are distributed via cafes, surgeries, libraries etc in Bookham, Fetcham, Leatherhead, East and West Horsley.

Now we have more delivery agents we can consider organically growing that distribution but probably on the basis of an extra one or two hundred each issue rather than some grand plan.

How often do you print and circulate the magazine and would you see this increasing?

At present, we produce spring and autumn issues. The natural next step would either be three issues to coincide with the school terms or perhaps four seasonal issues. Personally, I would like to offload more of the production effort before expanding.

The Bulletin seems a particularly useful short read. What are your hopes for the future with both publications?

The Roundabout Bulletin was an unplanned response to the Covid crisis. We worked with Churches Together to produce a Covid help leaflet for delivery alongside the magazine but lockdown beat us to it. Our magazine and the leaflet were printed but we couldn’t safely deliver, at least not until the lockdown was relaxed.

We made the help leaflet available via the various shops and outlets that remained open but wanted to reach further so Roundabout Bulletin was born. It promoted the help leaflet and a link to an e-copy of the magazine. It was emailed to all our group contacts who could then choose to cascade it to their members via email or post on their own websites and social media.

As businesses adapted to the situation and came up with innovative ways of serving our community we were able to use Roundabout Bulletin to let people know who was trading, and how and when they were trading

As lockdown was relaxed, we’ve been able to let businesses publicise what Covid precautions they were putting in place. We included links to local items on news websites such as The Dragon, as well as organisations such as our county and parish councils and resident associations and faith groups.

What sort of feedback have you received about the Bulletin’s coverage of Covid-19 and how local shops and businesses have coped?

Not having a social media presence we don’t get the level of immediate feedback that seems to be sought these days. What email feedback we do receive has been positive and appreciative. I think a measure of resident appreciation is that other websites are carrying the Bulletin. This was certainly a service our advertisers appreciated and has brought us more advertising enquiries.

What topics would you like to include in future editions?

To some extent, that’s in the hands of our local groups, the agenda is theirs, but I would expect that as the natural world/climate change agenda progresses we will see more related content.

Also, perhaps because I was brought up in a small business (my parents owned a retail butcher’s shop) I’m keen to encourage small businesses to tell us “their story”, particularly as they start picking up the pieces following this far-reaching pandemic. There will no doubt be similar opportunities as our local charities, schools and clubs adapt to the developing situation.

I’m also keen to help our community groups with fundraising. My late mother was a lifelong fundraiser, a swimming pool for my primary school, a cover to make it all-weather, a new hut for my Scout group followed by many years supporting the Leukaemia Research Fund. Jumble sales, bring-and-buy, coffee mornings, nearly-new sales and an army of home knitters were all part of the mix.

But things have changed and Covid will impact fundraising still further. Since those days, national charities have become professional and charity shops have superseded jumble sales, all reducing the possibilities.

Parents may have become cash-richer but at the same time, they’ve become time-poorer. Group organisers have to contend with risk assessments and safeguarding requirements to run their activities, let alone get their members fundraising in the ways we used to.

Looking back, I cannot help but think I was financially abused by people who paid me 5p to clean their brass during Scouting’s Bob-a-Job week.

What help do you need right now?

We are never going to turn down someone to help with delivery. An individual with good computer skills focused on email and social media would be really useful. And perhaps somebody who would like to be a journalist to interview people and produce articles, not unlike this one. And if a fourth person calls they could help by approaching businesses with our advertising offer.

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Cliff Hackett, Founder, Editor and Publisher of “Roundabout Effingham” and the “Bulletin”

  1. Cliff Hackett Reply

    November 3, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Should any readers wish to make contact the email is:

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