In 1974 the local charity Community Projects Centre launched Cwmbran Checkpointas part of a government-funded project to foster community spirit and tackle social problems caused by explosive growth in the Welsh new town of Cwmbran.
Checkpoint then was a cosy A4-format newssheet consisting of articles about community groups and a popular events listing. 3500 free copies were distributed monthly through public buildings. After two years the grant ran out, and it would have closed without the intervention of eight volunteers who saw Checkpoint’s value and took over the operation.
What did we mean by the phrase, ‘community newspaper’ in the late 1970s? In Here is the Other News, the Minority Press Group distinguished ‘community/participation’, papers from others more readily identifiable as ‘radical populist’, ‘counter cultural’ or ‘labour movement’. But given the evident overlaps, and the tendency for some papers to drift between categories over time as production personnel changed, were these distinctions really any use?
That was my introduction to “York Free Press”, one of the best and most enduring of the “alternative newspapers” that for a decade or two enlivened Britain’s culture and politics.
It was 1976 and I was an idealistic young teacher living and working in York and aggrieved at an article I’d read in a recent issue. York’s selective school system was about to be “comprehensively” reorganised but the YFP article argued for incorporating six-form colleges which I considered a device for keeping an A-Level elite away from less academic plebs. YFP claimed to be open to everyone and advertised weekly meetings upstairs in the Lowther on King’s Staith so I turned up one evening expecting a row and instead was welcomed in and invited to write a rejoinder. I was utterly disarmed, it wouldn’t happen at Socialist Worker! I was already a libertarian socialist but this bunch of scruffy student hippies turned me 100% anarchist and so I’ve remained.
‘We see the paper as a beginning – a start in the struggle to regain control over our community.’ This was the mission statement that graced The Moseley Paper‘s first front cover in February 1976.
Birmingham 13 magazine (‘by Moseley Churches for the Community’) had started up in May 1973, and the arrival of The Moseley Paper offered an alternative and more radical approach to the issues of the local area. Despite the differences, the paper’s editorial team received an invitation to meet representatives from Birmingham 13. The established publication wished to discuss a possible merger – at the time Birmingham 13 had a circulation of 2,000 and was most relevant in the area of Moseley. It was clear – even after only one issue (it had sold out in just two days) – that The Moseley Paper would cater for the younger section of the community.
In the early 1970s Rochdale in Lancashire was not exactly on forefront of radical anti-establishment movements. However the undercurrents of alternative thinking were filtering down to this steady hard working and very normal industrial town in north west England. Post industrialism was looming as the inefficient cotton mills could not compete with a flood of cheaper, imported cotton goods. Rochdale’s young and often disaffected people were seeking to find some reason why the status quo prevailed and why the systems of local government and power were not shared co-operatively amongst its citizens. There was a small but lively alternative culture in Rochdale-with a ‘head shop’ called Beautiful Stranger, an independent record store called Black Sedan and a music studio Tractor Studios which helped spawn free music festivals such as Deeply Vale. In this mix was the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP). Was it a radical paper of the alternative scene? No is the answer. Its targets were the circle of self-interested politicians and local business people that held all the wealth and influence. RAP was irreverent and not afraid to have a poke at the local big wigs.
Among the first things I did on moving to Yorkshire to study was visit a newsagent’s shop to buy a local newspaper. It was the 1970s so there were a few to choose from, and I opted for the one that just looked the most interesting: Leeds Other Paper.
Its 18 scrappily-designed A4 pages contained an alternative selection of stories and attitudes, and also included the following statement of intent:
“We publish Leeds Other Paperbecause we hope people will find it useful and interesting and because we enjoy doing it. We are not aligned to any particular political party but try to support groups and individuals struggling to take control over their own lives – whether it’s in the factory, the housing estate, or the home … If you like the paper and want to make it better or help us get it out to more people, we’d be pleased to hear from you … We have weekly meetings every Monday evening, and new people are always welcome.”
I’m now four weeks into my role as Research Associate on RRRP project and really pleased to be doing this. Independent radical newspapers were part of my political education, from local ones like Back Street Bugle and Islington Gutter Press to Outwrite the women’s newspaper.The project also allows me to draw on some of the knowledge picked up via my lengthy research into the radical printshops of the same period (which I spent several years working in).But back to the present and more importantly the RRRP project. What have we done and found out so far?