Although launched only a year ago in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic upheaval, a hyper-local independent community magazine project centred on Govanhill in Glasgow's south side, has already emerged as a remarkable and heart-warming Scottish publishing success story.
In its first year of publication, the multilingual Greater Govanhill
magazine, with a print run of 4,000 copies and wholly edited and produced on the kitchen table of its founder-editor, Rhiannon Davies, has won a remarkable hat-trick of UK and Scottish awards, plus a further three nominations, and is attracting readers from as far afield as the USA. Additionally, during 2021, the project's impressive and comprehensive website has carried 130 articles written by 80 contributors in 10 different languages.
That multilingual input is especially important, indeed vital, in the Govanhill community. Currently home to around 18,000 people, Govanhill is a densely populated and vibrant multicultural neighbourhood just a mile south of Glasgow's city centre. The area has a rich history of migration and it is now Scotland's most ethnically diverse neighbourhood with around 40% of residents from ethnic minorities. Fascinatingly, considering we are looking at a long-established, formerly traditional Glasgow neighbourhood, a recent social survey by Govanhill Housing Association identified 52 nationalities and 32 languages spoken within just 13 tenement blocks. That is multiculturalism par excellence.
magazine first hit the streets in December 2020 – founded by Rhiannon Davies, an accomplished and enterprising freelance journalist and communications professional. And the entire publishing operation was launched via the kitchen table of her Govanhill home – a new slant on desktop publishing! The self-styled 'solutions-driven' magazine, which is printed by Gladstone Media in Edinburgh and normally runs to 52 pages, is distributed free at various local pick-up points with delivery to more isolated residents organised with help from community bodies. However, members of the project's umbrella body – the not-for-profit Greater Govanhill Community Interest Company (CIC) – have the option of receiving the magazine free by post as part of a small annual subscription. Already it has approaching 150 members.
Rhiannon, 36, who grew up in Buxton, Derbyshire, first moved to Glasgow in 2016. She undertook a media, communications and international journalism Masters course at Glasgow University where she achieved a distinction and won the Outstanding Student Award.
The conception and successful gestation period of the full-colour magazine is almost wholly down to Rhiannon who told me how this ambitious and adventurous project had all come about. She relates: 'I had moved to Govanhill in 2018 and I was immediately struck by how different I felt living here compared with how Govanhill is frequently portrayed in much of the media. I have a background in magazines, journalism, journalism teaching and community development, and I am passionate about the importance of having a truly diverse media serving the community it covers'.
So she had a very clearly defined vision and ethos for the publication right from the outset, explaining: 'Launching a magazine seemed like a way to challenge these negative perceptions and stereotypes about Govanhill; breaking down cultural barriers; providing a platform to marginalised voices which are so often under-represented in the mainstream media; and generally bringing people together,' adding wryly: 'Launching a social enterprise during a pandemic, while also becoming a new mum to my baby daughter, has been a challenge, but I have loved every second so far'.
The launch issue costs were met by a community crowdfunding exercise. Subsequently, funding has come through a combination of advertising from local independent organisations, membership revenue and small-scale grants. The fifth issue will be published in late January and although it has been coming out on a quarterly basis until now, Rhiannon and her staff are looking at moving to a bi-monthly print run to help it become a more regular staple in the lives of Govanhill's folk.
The project is now able to afford three part-time staff: Rhiannon, who is editor-in-chief, Jack Howse as editorial, administrative and communications assistant and employed under the UK Government Kick Start scheme, and Becki Menzies handling advertising, sales, finance and revenue generation. Laura Hurst, a print-based graphic designer who has been involved in the project from the beginning, is employed on a freelance basis.
The magazine's initial wider recognition came in winning the 'One To Watch' category in the 2021 Social Enterprise Awards Scotland in early November. This award recognises organisations with a 'creative approach to impact problem-solving, a clear future vision and strong potential for success and growth'.
'As we have big plans for Greater Govanhill
, it meant a lot to be recognised in this category,' points out Rhiannon. However, the second and third instalments of a memorable hat-trick of awards were yet to follow.
Later in November came almost unprecedented recognition at a national level for a fledgling community magazine when it was voted Regional Magazine of the Year in the prestigious News Awards UK – beating competition from magazines run by corporate publishers with vastly bigger teams and budgets. And, significantly, this is the sole UK awards event dedicated to celebrating the best in news media print, technology and business innovation.
Initially stressing that it had been a difficult category to assess, the judges then promptly declared '… but it soon became apparent that there was a new kid on the block – and it stormed to success as the panel scrutinised hard for print quality, design, high value content and commercial innovation. Greater Govanhill
was a first-time entrant… and what a delight: a beautifully produced and printed matt finish magazine that is well-designed and creatively executed'.
'Fresh and innovative,' added the judges, saying it had achieved 'a brave pandemic year launch that catered perfectly for its hugely diverse target audience. It was also a runaway winner in a category usually dominated by coffee table beauties'.
Rhiannon confesses: 'I was both astounded and over the moon to accept this award on behalf of Greater Govanhill
. So many people who hold senior roles in the print industry approached me during the evening of the awards ceremony in London to tell me what a great publication it is and how much they admired our multilingual approach. It is amazing to think that people around the UK have had the opportunity to learn more about the incredibly diverse community of Govanhill. It is also indicative of the rising importance of the independent and community media sector. The fact that something that has been run from my kitchen table could be even considered in this category shows that there is a real appetite for journalism that takes a different, more inclusive approach'.
She adds: 'I am so proud of everything we have done so far with Greater Govanhill
. The magazine is only possible because of all the support we have received from the local community – whether it is people writing, editing, translating, designing, or distributing the magazine. This award very much belongs to all of our incredible contributors'.
The icing on the cake came in December when Greater Govanhill won the Launch of the Year category in the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) Scotland Awards. Again, the judges were seriously impressed, with the PPA revealing: 'All our judges were completely bowled over with the winning publication. The guts and determination it took to make it a reality shines through in the presentation and content,' summing up: 'An inspirational publication – so readable and with such varied content'.
However, despite all the razzmatazz involved in winning awards, it is the readers who ultimately decide whether a publication is to be a success or not, and Greater Govanhill
appears to have made excellent headway in that respect judging by comments on its website. One reader points out: 'I have seen people from a wide range of backgrounds reading the magazine in cafes, on the street and in the park, and I feel it is succeeding beyond my expectations in its aims of bringing the community together and providing wider representation than in the mainstream media'.
Another wrote discerningly: 'Often we are wary or uncomfortable about the unknown
– be that other cultures, business we're not familiar with, ways of life, and it can be easy to feel that the issues you face are yours alone. This magazine gives an insight into many of these unknowns, and reminded me that issues we face in this area are being met with love, community spirit and a whole host of amazing people'.
Further appreciation comes in the form of: 'I thought I knew my area pretty well but there were gems (buildings, projects, art work, etc) that I hadn't come across and which I am now looking forward to hunting down. Especially in these times, it is great to be reminded that so many people are working so hard for positive reasons and to feel connected to my community in a way that is safe'.
However, the comment which appeals to me most is: 'I've been reading it slowly, treasuring it and sucking on each article like a good boiled sweet. Which is great as the calorie content is zero! Well done! Best wishes – a very happy reader'.
Amidst all the excitement of the awards success, the Greater Govanhill
team even found time to publish a new magazine – The Scottish Beacon
– during the recent COP26 global event in Glasgow. The magazine featured a selection of articles on how climate change is affecting Scottish communities – submitted from independent and community news publishers across the country.
A delighted Rhiannon told me: 'We had stories from Shetland, Orkney, Argyll, Skye, West Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the magazine was distributed for free within these communities. I am hoping we can publish a second issue sometime during 2022 and feature an even wider number of publishers. I am really excited to see what we can do with that too'.
Looking to the future, she tells us: 'Alongside our plans to move to a bi-monthly print run, we want to redesign our website and build up our community noticeboard function. We are going to continue to produce regular radio shows for our local community internet radio station – Radio Bueno Vida – and we will also release a version of these shows on a podcasting platform.
'We meantime rent office space on a one-day a week basis and one of the main things that I would like us to achieve in 2022 is securing our own public-facing premises in Govanhill. We are looking to applying for grants that will enable us to do that. I would want the premises to be part of the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood – somewhere people can pop in for a chat or maybe come and learn new skills.
'We are about to launch a journalism skills training programme for young people from backgrounds currently under-represented in the media. Providing these types of opportunities was a big part of what I had initially set out to do with the magazine.
'We are also hoping to grow our membership scheme and find new ways for members to have their say. Among the biggest compliments we have received is from people from all over who say how much they enjoy the magazine – even those who have never set foot in Govanhill!
'We now have members based in London, Wales and Yorkshire, and even in the USA. You can become a member for as little as £3 a month and details are available at: www.greatergovanhill.com/members
These are certainly exciting times on the publishing front in Govanhill. John Milton most memorably wrote in his epic poem, Lycidas
: 'At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue: Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new'. I am unsure as to whether Rhiannon is in the habit of twitching her mantle when she arises each morning. But I am absolutely certain that tackling fresh woods and pastures new will not faze her one iota in view of her current track record down Govanhill way.
You can access the magazine's website at: www.greatergovanhill.com
and it can be contacted via Twitter at: govanhill_mag and on Facebook and Instagram at: GreaterGovanhill
In writing about the enterprise being shown in Govanhill, I feel I must also give an honourable mention to the equally fledgling Radio Buena Vida venture. This community internet radio station, launched back in October 2000 by David Fleming and his partner Susan O'Neill, and inspired by their time spent in Barcelona, endeavours to provide a Glasgow-based global platform for established DJs from home and abroad to broadcast a very diverse range of music genres.
It operates from a studio in the front window of the Some Great Reward record café at 520 Victoria Road, close to Queen's Park, and as well as the music content, provides a valuable platform for community groups and local charities to get their message across to the public.