Long Eaton, the town without a voice

A year after Trinity Mirror closed the century-old Long Eaton Advertiser David Christopher travelled to the town and discovered the blow that is dealt to a community when its local newspaper is killed off.
This story first appeared in the October edition of Press Gazette magazine: subscribe to Press Gazette.

The carnival morning the Derbyshire town of Long Eaton comes alive, spirits are high, neighbours chat in a queue four deep at The Paper Shop.

“It’s a pretty tight community,” says Sandra behind the counter. ‘Everybody knows everybody, we get a lot of people stopping by here for a paper on their way to the station.”

And there is no shortage of choice, alongside 12 national titles there are two regional papers, the Derby Telegraph and the Nottingham Evening Post, and an assortment of local newspapers from towns across the region, including the Ilkeston Advertiser, which covers Long Eaton’s closest neighbour.

There is, however, no Long Eaton newspaper, and there hasn’t been since the closure of the Long Eaton Advertiser, which had a circulation of 5,200, and its free sister title the Long Eaton Trader, in October 2008.

The Paper Shop sold around 350 copies of the Advertiser every week. Manager Mathew Bakers says that he still has around 30 customers a month tell him that they miss the paper.

The Long Eaton Advertiser is one of dozens of local which have closed down in Britain in 2009, most of which were in competition with other titles in their market. The Advertiser is one of the rare cases of a paid-for title closing in a town where it had no direct competitors. Now this 45,000 strong town has no paper, no dedicated radio station and it receives scant coverage from the regional press.

‘People don’t know what’s going on any more’

Long Eaton is seven miles south west of Nottingham and eight miles east of Derby – so is on the fringe for both the Nottingham Evening Post and the Derby Telegraph.

The Derby Telegraph sold only 504 copies a day in Long Eaton out of its 39,152 total circulation between July and December 2008.

Residents find it hard to understand how their town can no longer support a newspaper which had been around since 1882. Publisher, Trinity Mirror, said at the time that the closure was due to a ‘combination of difficult trading conditions and a strategic review of Trinity Mirror’s Midlands portfolio,’as well as their inability to find a buyer.

Trinity Mirror closed a further nine free local weekly papers in the Midlands last month and has already closed 22 papers across the country this year, in addition to the 35 it closed in 2008.

The effect such closures have on individuals is summed up by newsagent Mathew who says: ‘People miss the Advertiser because they don’t know what’s going on locally any more. The amount of people who came in this week and didn’t know that it was carnival week – it’s never been like that before.”

The big question on carnival day is whether this celebrated festival, the only free event for the whole community, will be able to survive without publicity from the Advertiser.

Carnival secretary, Sarah McIlfatrick, says the Advertiser used to publicise the carnival well: ‘They put us on the front page every year, and we’d feed them stories in the run-up. We had a child of merit, someone who has gone through some difficult circumstances, but without the Advertiser we have nowhere to publicise it, so we aren’t doing that any more.”

She says that parade and stall bookings were coming in much later than usual this year and donations to the carnival fund, a small but important source of revenue, have all but dried up.

If the 78 year-old carnival ran out of money treasurer Tim Fryzer-Smith doesn’t think it could be started up again, ‘We’ve got a lot of momentum, a good database of volunteers and a good reputation. I don’t think we could set it up today without the Advertiser.”

‘We’re a town without a voice now’

As the road parade assembles in the car park of the Royal Oak pub, clubs from across the town compete to see who can make the most noise, with the rowdy ten-year-olds from Riverside Football Club winning out. Adam Collishaw, a member of the club’s executive committee, admits that as loud as they shout, without the Advertiser there’s nowhere for sports clubs to publicise everything from match results to training times.

Kenneth Moreton, the verger of St Laurence’s church, is keen to contribute to any discussion of the Advertiser’s demise. ‘We’re a town without a voice now,’he says, echoing the Advertiser’s front page slogan, ‘Voice of the town for more than a century”.

Kenneth was a regular contributor to the Advertiser’s lively letters page where concerns about local issues were publicly debated by residents and councillors.

Kenneth’s activism might have found a home on the internet but he says there are no Long Eaton forums online, nor are there any citizen journalists writing about Long Eaton. According to Kenneth people who bought the Advertiser were the older residents who were engaged in community life and are often without internet access.

He believes that Trinity Mirror saw the Advertiser only as a way to make money. ‘It got too big with all of the free sheets it was publishing. It was competing with itself. Nobody’s going to pay 40p when you get a free paper through your door every week.”

Nottingham has two free newspapers, the Recorder and the Topper, which are distributed to 65 per cent and 68 per cent of households in Long Eaton respectively. Kenneth is quick to dismiss them: ‘People throw them straight in the bin.’

He says that without the Advertiser important news isn’t getting through to residents: ‘They’re about to rebuild the River Trent flood defences and it’s going to shut down one of the main roads into Long Eaton for a month and nobody knows about it.”

Environment Agency principal communications officer for the project Lyn Fraley says she has spent a lot of time teasing out small local publications for their ‘pretty exhaustive’database, but when she checks her list she has to admit that she’s found nothing that covers Long Eaton. ‘It’s a key road we’re closing,’she says, ‘And it’s a nasty diversion, so this is very concerning.”

Police: ‘The advertiser was the perfect medium to get out messages’

Chris Waters, Long Eaton Safer Neighbourhood Team sergeant, is concerned that without a newspaper residents get the wrong impression about the town’s crime rate. ‘The type of crime the safer Neighbourhood team deals with is actually down, but people don’t believe the statistics. They’re hearing about crimes from Nottingham and from Long Eaton and they think it’s not a safe place to live, which it is.”

He says the situation is made worse by the lack of anywhere to read good news about the town. The Safer Neighbourhood Team recently ran a successful initiative to keep youths off of the streets during the longest nights of the year by giving them free cinema tickets. It resulted in one of the lowest call-out rates the area has ever had but Sergeant Waters says there was no way to publicise their success.

‘The Advertiser was the perfect medium to get out messages about meetings we were having and calls for witnesses to incidents,’he says, ‘I had a successful case before I came here where we caught a robber through a facial sketch in the local newspaper, and now that couldn’t happen here.”

As the carnival parade leaves the Royal Oak car park and makes its way up Tamworth Road towards the town centre, residents line the streets, clapping and waving at their children encamped on the colourfully disguised articulated lorries.

The parade rolls slowly through the high street that did an excellent trade until a few years ago, supporting a bustling market that is a shadow of its former self. The boarded-up shops in the town centre paint a grim but misleading picture.

Educational achievement, crime, democratic engagement and unemployment are all close to borough and national averages, although many residents wouldn’t credit it.

Everything is half price at the Insight Books closing down sale. Owner Eddie Mason says that the town has gone downhill in the last two years, but has gotten much worse recently. ‘Now every other shop is boarded up,’he says, ‘I think the town planners have to accept a lot of the blame for the demise of Long Eaton. If you put two big supermarkets in the middle of the town it’s going to force everyone else out of business.”

There has been an Asda in the town centre since the early nineties, but Tesco Extra has only been open since 2004. Neither supermarket bought much advertising from the Long Eaton Advertiser and both competed directly with independent retailers that did, many of whom have since gone out of business.

Ray Terry, secretary of the Long Eaton Chamber of Trade, says that the Advertiser was the logical place for the town’s businesses to advertise, ‘Advertising costs are going up now because we have to put adverts in lots of smaller places to get the same coverage.’

The Advertiser was around 48 pages long in 2006, half of which was news and half advertising. By the final edition it had shrunk to 28 pages.

‘Kegworth air disaster was Advertiser’s finest hour’

Andy Smart, now a feature writer for the Nottingham Evening Post, edited the Long Eaton Advertiser between 1984 and 1991 and says that even during his time the paper was shrinking. ‘I remember we lost our property advertising because the estate agents brought out their own advertising freesheet, so the paper got smaller.”

Andy says the Advertiser did exactly what a local paper should do, it got out into the community and told local stories. He says one of the paper’s finest moment was its response to the Kegworth Air Disaster in 1989, when a British Midlands plane crashed on the M1 killing 47 people.

‘Because we were so close to the airport our photographer was one of the first on the scene,’he says, ‘It was well covered nationally so we decided to do a 12-page supplement called ‘A night for heroes’ which concentrated on local people who responded to the crash – fire and ambulance service men and women. We told the same story but from a local perspective, that’s what a community needs because without that all you get is the national perspective.”

Community aside, Andy says the greatest damage done by the closure of local papers is the loss of future generations of journalists. He believes local newspapers are the best training a young journalist can get.

‘Trinity Mirror didn’t give a shit’

Patrick May was the human face of the Long Eaton Advertiser for many of its readers, having sold the paper for a decade in the town to shouts of ‘Come and get your Appy Lizer”, a nickname which pre-dates the second world war. He now commutes from Long Eaton to Loughborough to sell the Loughborough Evening Echo, but says if he won the lottery he would resurrect the Long Eaton Advertiser and get back out on the streets to sell it.

Patrick is critical of Trinity Mirror’s decision to keep cutting pages from the Advertiser rather than putting up the price, ‘Every week I had people saying, ‘I don’t know why I buy it anymore, there’s nothing but adverts in it.”

He was a passionate advocate of the Advertiser and a focal point for the community, passing messages between regular customers and ‘having the crack’with them. He accuses Trinity Mirror of being ‘mercenary’and says they only cared about profit.

He points to the final edition as proof. It was business as usual apart from three paragraphs in a box on the front page informing readers it was the last edition, blaming ‘difficult trading conditions’and thanking residents and staff for their support.

‘Just two inches on the front page,’he recalls, ‘No ‘ages past’, no special front page, nothing. That, to me, was a good example of their attitude to what happened. They didn’t give a shit to be frank.”

If Trinity didn’t care, Patrick says residents did, and many were moved to tears. ‘I had one lady come up to me and tell me she met a friend of her daughter’s and asked about her auntie and it turned out she had died three weeks before and they’d just had the funeral. She was mortified, she’d had no idea.”

Of the paper’s many regular sections the births, deaths and marriages, or ‘hatches, matches and dispatches”, is perhaps its most missed. People have no way to keep track of the deaths of friends and relatives outside of their immediate circle according to Reverend Phillip Waller, head of the Long Eaton Churches Fellowship. As a consequence attendance at funerals has dropped.

Louise Cook, funeral director at A.W. Lymn, says that nearly every funeral used to lead to an obituary in the Long Eaton Advertiser, but few want to place one in the regional papers.

The obituaries were often followed up by a thankyou from the family published in the paper the following week and written tributes from friends. ‘You might get the same person remembered by six different people,’Reverend Waller says, ‘A lot of heartfelt emotion went into it.”

Accidental deaths are also going unreported. On 29 June local councillor Roland Hosker was told there had been a head-on collision between a young motorcyclist and a car near his home. ‘A neighbour said it was a horrible accident, the man was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and his motorcycle helmet was unfastened.”

He drove past the spot to confirm the report and saw a woman laying flowers by a lamppost. ‘We’ve got no way of knowing who that motorcyclist was,’he says, ‘Or even if he was local.”

The man was 30 year old Che Baldwin from Sandiacre, less than a mile away.

Challenge to local democracy

Councillor Roland Hosker is concerned about the implications for local democracy of the Advertiser’s closure.

‘It’s a publicity black hole now,’he says, ‘Council press releases aren’t getting round and there’s no letters page where the public can debate things.’The council’s publicity budget has also increased because they have to put planning notices in both the Nottingham Evening Post and the Derby Telegraph.

Since the Advertiser’s closure the only time Long Eaton’s residents can engage councillors and representatives from the civic amenities in public debate is at the quarterly town forums.

‘It’s the only voice we’ve got now,’says verger Kenneth Moreton, who’s current concern is the vandalism of St Laurence’s church. ‘If we had the Advertiser I could have highlighted it there, instead I’m going to have to rely on the forum and try to get enough people to come with me to apply some pressure.”

Kenneth is as good as his word, the summer forum is the busiest that forum liaison officer Paul Jameson has ever seen it, with 50 people in attendance.

Kenneth delivers an impassioned speech about the shabbiness the town’s drinking culture engenders, listing damage done to St Laurance’s memorial garden as he passes around photographs of vomit, faeces and graffiti. He carries the crowd with him as he accuses the council of enabling drinkers to spoil the town’s public places.

Having listened patiently a council representative says he will look into it. It’s the best result that Kenneth could have hoped for, but it’s an anti-climax nonetheless. A year ago a journalist at the forum might have picked up the story and championed Kenneth’s cause, now if the council do nothing his only recourse will be to complain to the same forum in three months time.

The paper’s closure presents other challenges for local democracy. Councillor Roland Hosker says very few people in the town know who won June’s local elections. ‘I’d say a lot less than half of people know the results. I won by 20 votes after three recounts and even my neighbours didn’t know because the Advertiser’s not there to tell them.’

Without the Advertiser the town’s politicians are struggling to maintain their public profiles. Enjoying a cup of tea in the private enclosure at the carnival, councillor Kevin Miller confesses, ‘We’ve not had a reporter around here for a long time, that’s why we’re all so desperate to talk to you.’

Kevin came to the carnival to take photographs of Jessica Lee, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Erewash, who is judging the parade. ‘I’ve got these photos now, but I’ve got nowhere to send them,’he says.

There’s a chance that a story like that could make the leap from a local paper into a regional paper, but without that publicity incentive high profile public figures like Jessica Lee will be less likely to spend their time in Long Eaton.

It’s not inconceivable that the lack of publicity in the town may discourage Erewash borough council from investing in the area, diverting money instead to parts of the borough like Ilkeston where their efforts are publicised and rewarded with votes.

Lottery funding now harder to secure

It’s more than just council investment which may be effected. Barbara James, bursar of the Long Eaton School, says that lottery funding is harder to secure. ‘When you’re applying for lottery money there’s an expectation that you will do press releases and get the word out.”

The school had Olympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds plant one of 1500 trees during a recent lottery funded green initiative. The Nottingham Post wrote a small piece about the event but didn’t include a picture.

Publicity is also important for local entertainment events. Attendance at the Galaxy Cinema and at Long Eaton Operatic Society shows have fallen by 10 per cent since the paper’s closure.

Owner of the Galaxy Cinema, Graeme Cotton, says that the audiences are getting younger because show times that were once listed in the Advertiser are now only available on the internet. ‘We can’t even get the films older people like anymore,’he says. ‘We’re not allowed to show them when they open because we can’t get enough people in to see them.”

Back at the carnival ground in West Park the Long Eaton Operatic Society have won the prize for best float and are getting some much needed publicity for their upcoming show, Pickwick.

As she expertly strips the float’s Victorian set dressing, vice chair, Liz Woolley, says the society used to have a very beneficial relationship with the Advertiser who reviewed all of their shows.

‘Ticket sales are down because people are less aware of what’s happening,’she says, ‘And we’re having more trouble recruiting people, especially men. In the past we would have written an article about the problem and the Advertiser would have published it for free, now we don’t know what to do.”

As the carnival settles into West Park and the dancing troops take to the ring it’s obvious that the event has been a success, the road parade was the biggest since the 1980s and the field is at its full capacity of 5000.

Long Eaton Carnival Chairman, Mike Barnes, is relieved, he says that this year was make or break.

But even when the event is this successful its future is by no means assured.

The council have refused to guarantee the carnival’s grants for next year and red-tape costs are creeping up. There was a new £7.50 wind stress test for all lampposts displaying carnival posters this year and next year Derbyshire Constabulary plan to charge up to £50 per officer per hour to attend.

‘These are the kind of stories that would get covered by the Advertiser,’Mike says, ‘If it gets any more difficult our little voluntary committee may say, ‘Is somebody trying to tell us something here? Maybe they don’t want us?'”

On the following Thursday the carnival gets a modest, but not unwelcome, third of a page write-up in the weekly title for the neighbouring town the Ilkeston Advertiser, where last year it would have garnered a triumphant double-page spread in the Long Eaton Advertiser.

The carnival’s success could do a lot to reassure the town that it still has a host of dedicated advocates and an appetite to come together as a community. Unfortunately, without the Advertiser to tell it, it’s a story that the majority of residents will never hear.

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