In My Opinion: Michael Rawlins: Hyperlocal Scotland

SCOTLAND is a wonderfully diverse country, with large cities and small, picture-postcard villages. The one thing that strikes me, however, as a relative newcomer (regular visitor for 14 years and resident for eight months), is that there’s not a lot of local web stuff, that is easy to find.

In England, there are a huge number of hyperlocal websites. Yet, in Scotland, there appears to be very little.

‘Hyperlocal’, for those of you who have not come across the phrase before, refers to things that are very local to you. You may have a ‘local’ newspaper that that covers a whole town, but hyperlocal is about your bit of that town.

A number of towns across the UK have no source of local news any more; if they did have a local paper, it has probably either shut down, merged with another publication, gone weekly or fortnightly or even monthly.

Scotland is no different; in fact, from what I have seen over the past 15 years, it has worsened. Once you get outside of the big cities, and into the towns and villages, it is more difficult to find out about local news or events.

The ‘hyperlocal movement’ in England has gone some way to counter those losses as people, regular citizens, take it upon themselves to produce their own local website to cover local news and events.

There are 100s of sites listed in England, according to OpenlyLocal, which is regarded as the first stop when looking for hyperlocal sites. On the same site, there are only 25 located in Scotland.

Included among those 25 is The Edinburgh Reporter, run by a small team of unpaid volunteers and which gets a 100,000 unique visitors month. Others include Greener Leith and A Gurn from Nurn.

I’m sure that there are many more than the 25 sites listed; I know from research around where I live in Aberdeenshire, there are at least another 14 sites, but I had to dig around to find them.

In a time when more and more people are using the internet for their day-to-day lives, Scotland appears to still be ‘analogue’ – from the outside, at least. In a lot of places, you have to go to the local shop to see the posters for the coffee mornings, you have to speak to people to find out what is going on in the town. This is all very nice, I really do like that, but (there is always a but), what about visitors?

According to the tourism agency, VisitScotland, there were 15 million visits to Scotland during the 12 months to March this year.

So, how do some of these visitors find out about what is special about your town so they come to visit you and spend some of the estimated £4326 million with you?

The easy answer is create a local website for your area, or publicise the one you have. It won’t be the ‘silver bullet’ that cures everything but having something online is better than nothing.

As part of my work at Talk About Local – which is a small training and consultancy company that specialises in working with people from some of the UK’s most deprived communities to help them leverage the power of the internet – I am in the process of starting some research in to the Scottish hyperlocal scene, with Phyllis Stephen from The Edinburgh Reporter. We hope to tease out the sites that are already there, look for gaps and try to find ways to help people to fill those gaps.

A lot of this research will be about the people, their confidence and skills, along with the place and, of course, that ever-present problem of decent broadband connections.

If you are interested in the research project, Scottish hyperlocal sites or community sites in general, please get in touch with me at

Michael Rawlins is commercial and technical manager at Talk About Local and ran Pits n Pots, in Stoke-on-Trent City. He now livws Aberdeenshire and is an occasional contributor to My Turriff.

This is a version of a chapter in the book, ‘What Do We Mean by Local?, edited by John Mair, Richard Lane Keeble and Neil Fowler; publ Abramis academic publishing.