There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to tell a story, but when you are writing a fairytale there’s only one way to go…
Once Upon a Time, four colleagues were beavering away at their various day jobs in the editorial department of a well-established local newspaper when news struck that times they were a-changing.
Voluntary redundancies were on the cards and the four colleagues, who were also friends, were fearful for their futures.
Despite reassurances that there would be jobs available to them, the future seemed a frightening place, where their jobs would no longer be the same and most likely would take them away from doing what they loved and what they were good at.
Two of the quartet, Rachel Mayfield and Tracey Sweetland, could see the writing was on the wall and during one of their regular lunchtime chats at a local cafe, talk turned to what they could do if they chose to take voluntary redundancy.
And from such small acorns, mighty oaks may grow – for during that conversation it was suggested, almost as a throwaway, easily dismissed, pie in the sky idea, that they could take on the big boys and start their own newspaper.
But, as is often the way with these things, the idea quickly blossomed – and the hard work began to research if the dream could be turned into a profitable reality.
Enter stage left, the other two primary players. Photographer Nikki Griffin (as she was then) and sports editor Andy Clucas would make up the dream team of an editorial department.
Photographers were rumoured to be at the top of the list in the latest cull, so Nikki was easily persuaded to consider joining the new venture, but, as her partner, Andy had concerns about them both taking voluntary redundancy to pursue something as ambitious as setting up a new newspaper.
But as the dream gained momentum, it became clear that there really could be a place for a second newspaper within South Holland and so Andy was persuaded to be on board. By now he had missed the boat for voluntary redundancy and decided he would hand in his notice when the time was right.
And so the team set about making the dream work, spending hours fleshing out the bones of the idea, putting together a business plan and, in best journalistic fashion, planning the who, where and whens?
Team work makes the dream work
At this point, we hand over the telling of our tale to Tracey.
When we finally decided we were really going to do this, the project seemed to gain a momentum of its own and we were caught up in a whirlwind of activity.
Most weekends, the four of us could be found closeted away with our laptops and spreadsheets in my dining room. putting together financial forecasts and a business plan.
We knew we were going to need a serious investment to get off the ground, so we needed to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
It was a nerve-wracking time. We had decided to take voluntary redundancy to pursue what many people may have thought was a crazy idea, but we were all so passionate about creating a new paper which did things differently. We wanted to create a newspaper that was about the local community, for the local community, and not just about making money for the big boys.
So we created a mission statement focusing on our News for Free philosophy and, having finally deciding on the name, The Spalding and South Holland Voice, we created some dummy designs and were ready to see if our plans would be taken seriously enough to earn us the backing we needed.
We were all so far out of our comfort zones, presenting our ideas to a big businessman, his accountant and solicitor, but we felt we had acquitted ourselves well and received positive vibes from our meeting.
By this time we were coming up to Christmas 2013 and it was an anxious few weeks during the festive period while we waited to hear the verdict. We all felt like our lives were hanging in the balance.
By this time Rachel had already left her job and was able to work behind the scenes to press on with our plans, while the rest of us worked on. Nikki and I became masters at vague answers to questions about our plans for when we left, while everyone was still oblivious to Andy’s plans to leave and what we were really going to do.
Of course, when word came it wasn’t a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Our investor had said he was willing to put up a considerable amount of money but he wanted to see some financial commitment to The Voice from us four as well.
In retrospect we had been particularly naive to expect him to put up the cash without us putting our money where our mouths were.
Fortunately, after a few tense days we were able to satisfy him that we were able to invest in our project and at last it really was full steam ahead!
Full steam ahead
We had obviously already started looking at what premises were available in Spalding to give us an idea on costs, but now we needed to crack on and find premises, kit them out with all the computer equipment and software we would need, find a printer (again we had quotes from a couple of options) and a distributor, as well as assemble our full team – all while three of us still had full time jobs and the Spalding and South Holland Voice was a fiercely-protected secret.
Editorially, the Voice was almost complete. Just one addition was necessary and Nigel Chapman, who we had all previously worked with, was an obvious choice. He was currently working in a press office and was keen to get back into journalism.
But a news team cannot make a newspaper profitable. For that you need a dynamic and experienced advertising team, and who better than someone who knew the job inside out and the South Holland patch like the back of her hand?
Gill Wheldon was the former advertising manager at the established local paper who had left a year or so earlier and gone into semi-retirement. It seemed like a big step to approach Gill, as it was unclear whether she would feel loyalty to her former employer and colleagues and blow the still-secret plan wide open, but it was a necessary step if things were to move forward.
Fortunately, Gill was excited about the idea and agreed to come on board as a advertising sales executive to help get The Spalding Voice off the ground.
From the very off, we had all had a clear idea of who we wanted to come and work for us and Mel Biggadike, a sales rep at the same established newspaper, was at the top of the list. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward and Mel was not going to be able to join us from day one because of a clause in her contract, but she was also keen to join us, as was receptionist Lisa Coley, who had taken voluntary redundancy on the basis that receptionists were also top of the list for the chop. She was to join us as our receptionist and our one-man advertising accounts department.
By the end of February 2014, we were moving swiftly towards the endgame and at this point I was able to leave my old job behind and join Rachel in concentrating on The Voice.
On March 1, Rant Media came into being and started paying us a salary, even though we had not yet made a penny or secured even a single sale.
It was a truly terrifying yet exhilarating time, putting the final arrangements into place. We were all so lucky to have the full backing of our families – even though they must have all had some doubts about whether we could pull this off.
Andy and Nikki finally joined us in mid-March and now the race was truly on to be ready. Some days it was like Challenge Anneka as we split into pairs to get everything done.
One day, Nikki and Andy raced from Spalding to Wisbech to sign some legal documents regarding the new premises, before heading to Peterborough to pick up computer equipment and then racing to Lincoln to pick up the keys from our new landlords. They made it by the skin of their teeth as the clock ticked round to 5pm.
It was certainly a crazy time, but one which I will remember forever. We were all so excited and passionate about what we were doing.
Spalding Voice first edition
We had decided our first edition would be out on April 17, 2014, and with just days to go we were still building desks, sorting out phones and setting up computer equipment. It was nailbiting stuff and our first deadline day was a very late night indeed as we finally put the first Spalding and South Holland Voice to bed.
But, it was worth it. The next day the four of us travelled to our printers, Mortons in Horncastle, to see the very first edition come off the presses. It was a highly-emotional (I cried, much to the amusement of my dear partners!), not to mention scary, moment, but one which I can honestly say was one of the proudest of my life.
Since that day, the Spalding Voice has gone from strength to strength and we have been truly overwhelmed by the positive feedback we have received.
In November 2014 we were really proud and delighted to pick up the Small/New Business of the Year Award at the South Holland Business Awards, and even prouder to be honoured with the Innovation of the Year Award at the 2015 awards ceremony, where we were also Highly Commended in the Business of the Year category.
The Spalding Voice now has a team of 11 staff, with Lynda Robinson and Claire Sharpe joining the advertising team and James Bedford bolstering our editorial team even further.
It has been an amazing couple of years and we know we are still only in the opening chapters of our success story, with plans to expand our services through Rant Media.
And so, as it started, this story ends in true fairytale fashion.
They all lived happily ever after. THE END