I haven’t blogged anything for over a year, most things can be said on Facebook on Twitter these days, but it felt that this needed a bit more time and attention. Because two days ago Steph Clarke passed away very suddenly and I wanted to somehow get something down in words. I was about to type ‘of WV11′ after her name there because that was one of the ways I knew here, and others did within my field of academic research, but she was of course so much more than that to so many people, as we’ve seen from the hundreds of dedications and memories over the last couple of days.
I don’t think we actually physically met until the 2012 Talk About Local Unconference, but by that time I was already living in Wednesfield, using her and James’ fantastic hyperlocal site and Facebook page. We had come into contact with them I think through the church, as we’d moved to the area when my wife became a curate there. When we did meet face to face, it felt like we were already friends though – as I’m sure is the case for so many people who mostly knew her online.
Then I got a research assistant post on the Creative Citizens project studying hyperlocal, and so they came into focus through that as well – friends and ‘creative citizens’ in their community. When I started my PhD looking at how people use hyperlocal sites, it made sense to make WV11 my case study. Steph and James were always welcoming with my questions, helping me to promote the work, answering whenever they could and had time in between everything else they got up to. We went out socially a few times, but all the online chatter and banter in between was just as significant, it must have been because it felt like really hard news to hear on Friday.
Many will have known Steph as someone on the estate, or in wider Wednesfield, or obviously as a family member. Her online posts always suggested she was great with kids, and I know ours were sometimes a bit sullen and blank when they met James and Steph, but I also remember Steph taking time at the cycle speedway world championships in 2015 with Ewan, taking photos with him.
As much as she seemed to make herself comfortable with whoever she spoke to, she was always herself, but also somehow professional when necessary, with a warmth that is sometimes unexpected from people involved in these kinds of things. She would present or speak with passion, in a group, or one to one. I remember her at Makeshift in Wolverhampton, at our Creative Citizens Fair event in 2015, and at our book launch event this year in London, for the Creative Citizens book. We wanted to make a point of bringing along some of the hyperlocal editors we’d been doing our work about, the people on the ground who do this amazing work, and, along with others, they did us proud. They even managed to slip into a quick photo opportunity with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame. We got her to talk about hyperlocal in the video below, and hopefully this demonstrates just how much she was respected by her peer hyperlocalists (?) but also those who knew her at BCU, through the project or maybe in other ways. She was always honest, always open to say her bit (and then some), and always giving.
When we moved away to Rubery two years ago, we lost contact physically, but obviously it still carried on online. And as I’ve been writing up my PhD since September, I’ve felt close as I go through interviews with them, and with people who used their website and Facebook page. My only regret there is that I didn’t get to pass on all the great feedback they had from people, and as much as it wasn’t always plain sailing for them, people not always understanding the incredible work and effort they put in as volunteers on so many levels, I know they also knew they were loved and appreciated for it too. As someone said the other day, Steph has crammed more into her life than many would have, if they’d lived to double the age. She won’t be forgotten.