Letter: An open letter to our readers on our fifth birthday

Bedford Independent Five Years logo

Five years ago this week, the Bedford Independent (BI) website went live.

Read: Bedford Independent is live and we’ve hit the ground running

In those (what seems like especially long and at the same time blisteringly fast) five years so much has changed personally and professionally for all of us behind Bedford Borough’s most popular news source, it’s hard to know which events from those years to reflect upon.

We’ve shared the collective impact of Brexit and a global pandemic, a recession and local political changes. We’re also weathering threats to the local news landscape such as the reduction of local BBC news, the closure of Bedfordshire Live, and the rise of AI.

All this while also going through changes to our personal lives that have tested us but made us stronger in their own individual way.

The last five years have indeed been challenging, to say the least, but Bedford needs a responsible, regulated, ethical and accurate news source that reports on what matters to Bedfordians, which we’re proud to deliver and those challenges have not been in vain.

We’ve published almost 8,000 stories (7,898 to be exact), and grown a social media following of 30,866 (that’s not taking into account the 56,000 members of our Facebook group We Are Bedford).

No, we’re not on Twitter/X after becoming what is reported to be the first UK regional publication to leave the platform over the lack of tools to filter and report fake news on the site.

Read: Local title quits X in protest at ‘fake news and extremism’

Despite this, our strong and growing digital audience continues to support our 130,000 monthly average website visitors.

Those are just numbers though, and while they help us to gauge what we’re doing right, or can do better, news is about people and it’s people that have really justified what we do.

Here for Bedford Borough

All Everyday Heroes Awards winners 2022
The Bedford Independent Everyday Heroes Awards winners 2022

Almost every day, we have a random person stopping us in the street or emailing us to say the story we’ve published has helped their family, or charities email to say they’ve raised more money than ever before thanks to our coverage.

Pet lovers have thanked us for helping them find their lost dog because someone saw an article we’d written about them, or local creatives get in touch to show how busy the Bedford Clanger’s What’s on Guide helped their event to be.

It’s also something to be celebrated that we occasionally receive emails from local politicians, who are annoyed that we fact-checked their statements or added an opposing view to the spin they’d sent out when other publications simply copied and pasted it without even checking for typos.

Local businesses also tell us they have reached more people than they expected thanks to a marketing campaign they ran with us, or we continue to receive hundreds of entries for our Everyday Heroes Awards each year… the list of positives goes on and on.

All of those positives and more are thanks to the people who have supported us, our readers, our Patrons and our business partners who advertise with us.

Team BI

But, it’s also thanks to those in our editorial and commercial teams who make up ‘Team BI’ and work hard to improve what we do each year.

Since 2018, some of those who have joined Team BI, have gone on to further their careers with other publications, while others have chosen different paths.

We’ve had young writers on work experience get their first solo work picked up by a national network, or a student journalist messaging to say they got a ‘B’ in their court reporting exam, and it’s “thanks to our support and encouragement”.

Those who have cut their journalism teeth at the BI have gone on to shape rewarding and promising careers of their own, one is now the technical director for major league rugby in the US and another has just won a national journalism award.

We feel like proud parents.

However, some are still here delivering exceptional content, supporting local communities, organisations and businesses – helping prove that local news is vital to a community’s ecosystem.

One of these is Tom Carr.

Unrivalled sports coverage

Tom came to us asking if he could volunteer to help with our sports coverage. He already has a full-time job but is passionate about all sports and wanted to make sure the variety of local sports in our Borough gets written about.

Starting in September 2019, with a few reports about Bedford Town FC and Bedford Blues RFC, Tom has made this voluntary role his own, creating a sports editor role and turning our sports coverage into something we never felt was possible with the limited resources we have.

He’s created brilliant relationships with teams across the Borough and has now written over 550 match reports and stories about local rugby, football, cricket, swimming, cycling, basketball, hockey, Formula 1, wheelchair racing, wheelchair rugby and even walking football.

Let’s be clear – if it wasn’t for Tom, Bedford Borough’s bigger sports teams would have next to zero coverage and smaller ones would be unheard of. We all, editors, readers and sports fans alike, owe him a debt of gratitude.

We are a great team and as Tom and other volunteers prove, each of us is just as important as the other, regardless of the individual roles we may play or the position we hold within the business.

Tom Carr
Bedford Independent’s sports editor, Tom Carr, also supports efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues

Use it or lose it

As we reach this five-year milestone, we may well be in a better place commercially than ever before, but there is still a long way to go.

Despite each of us having to work part-time and having volunteers (who we would love to pay) supporting us, we still manage to deliver Bedford’s most widely read publication and consistently work hard to champion the positives and challenge the negatives of our Borough.

Even five years on, we still have businesses and organisations, big and small, lauding our work and shouting about how important we are for Bedford Borough in one breath and then asking us to provide our commercial services for free in another.

Imagine what we could do for the communities of Bedford Borough if we could make the BI our full-time jobs and could afford to employ people like Tom and other passionate journalists.

We are hopeful that the weeks, months and years to come will see those things change as more and more individuals and businesses recognise that if balanced and regulated local news doesn’t exist, our communities will become disjointed, ill-informed and uninspired.

We believe in the Bedford Independent and all the positives that the balanced, ethical and professional local news we provide brings to a community’s ecosystem.

At five years old, the Bedford Independent has cemented itself as an integral and vital part of the Bedford Borough community, a community we are very proud to be a part of.

We hear more and more people say every day that they too recognise the important part the professional local news we deliver plays in a strong and healthy community.

This is evidenced by our readership, which is consistently higher than that of other publications backed by big UK-wide companies and those readers who also put their hands in their pockets and donate a few quid every now and again to say “thank you”.

We must be doing something right.

Yours always,

Paul Hutchinson, Erica Roffe, Julia Course
Co-founders, Bedford Independent

BI Founders: Erica Roffe, Paul Hutchinson, Julia Course-Crofts at Bedford Running Festival August 2019
(l-r) BI founders: Erica Roffe, Paul Hutchinson and Julia Course.