Community spirit

Meet our new journalist-at-large, Ryan Herman

Introducing himself as Local Trust’s new journalist-at-large, Ryan Herman is ready to get stuck in and travel around the country to share the untold stories of Big Local areas

Writers love nothing more than being able to tell a good story and everybody has a good story to tell. This is especially true of Big Local.

Back in December 2017, a colleague introduced me to Local Trust CEO Matt Leach. At that point, I’d never heard about Big Local and by the end of that meeting all I wanted to do was find out more. I was lucky to be able to do so whilst writing an essay for Local Trust on community sport, due to be released next month.

I suspect most people will have preconceptions about what they think Big Local areas will spend their money on. I certainly wasn’t expecting to discover that one was in the process of making a zombie movie – take a bow, Firs and Bromford. I remember telling this to a friend, who looked at me slightly puzzled, and said ‘what the **** are you talking about?’

I considered that to be a good thing. So many Big Local projects have defied expectations and will continue to do so.

From there, I quickly began to appreciate that beyond the unique challenges that every Big Local has faced, they all have unique histories, unique characters and unique ways of trying to create lasting change within their communities.

And those are the sorts of stories that a writer should want to tell.

Whilst producing the essay, I went to five areas and every time I came back from a different part of the country, be it Barrow Island, Sidley, East Cleveland Villages, Dewsbury Moor or Luton Arches, I would eagerly tell friends and colleagues about the amazing people that I had met and the brilliant projects they were running.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve covered all sorts of stories from corruption in Chinese football to employing ex-offenders to how a group of students toured Zambia pretending to be Leeds United. I’ve interviewed all sorts of people from Andy Murray to Kenny Rogers to ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser to a Chelsea player in the nude (he was nude, not me). And over the past three years, there has been a seemingly endless stream of stories to write about Brexit and the UK economy.

But writing that Big Local essay has been by far the most interesting and personally rewarding project to date.

So, when I was asked to become the new Journalist-at-Large, how could I possibly refuse?

Then, in September, I attended Big Local Connects and was standing on the sidelines, slightly puzzled by the fact that Matt was wearing a gold suit, and then a video played on the big screen behind him. It was ‘Big Local – Creating Lasting Change’ the short film based on Longfella’s poem.

You’d need a heart of flint not to feel inspired, and feel part of something bigger and more profound, after watching that film.

Getting the opportunity to go on the road and spend time in towns, villages, and estates and simply talking to people, to ask them to share their experiences is a privilege and one that both myself and my predecessor, Louise Tickle, viewed as one of the most important and valuable parts of the role.

You start your train journey with one idea in mind and by the time you’ve left, you might end up with an entirely different tale. There is no better example than I went to Dewsbury Moor earlier this summer and met Big Local worker Gary – a man who has been on a personal journey of redemption, who has packed more into the past five years than many people will do in a lifetime.

Looking forward to the year ahead, I see the role of the Journalist-at-Large fulfilling the following objectives…

Firstly, I want to highlight the most interesting, life-affirming, weird and wonderful stories that are happening across the 150 Big Local areas. But an important part of this year’s brief is to go to the places that might not have had much exposure, ones that might have taken longer to get projects off the ground, that might have come up against a number of barriers both internally and externally, but are now starting to see their projects come to life.

Secondly, as Matt said at Big Local Connects, we are starting to make more people aware of what’s being achieved, what an incredible project Big Local is.

I want to take that story and bring it to a wider audience, so that policymakers, businesses, charities, and social enterprises understand why that Big Local is something they should want to be a part of.

The role is also about being a sounding board and providing assistance to Big Local areas who want to tell their stories but aren’t quite sure what is the best way to go about it. In fact, I will be at the Big Local event in Manchester on November 8, to talk more on this subject.

Over the coming weeks and months, you may spot me lurking at similar regional cluster events as I try to meet as many people from as many areas as possible. Please do come and talk to me.

Louise Tickle will be an exceptionally hard act to follow, but also it means that the job comes with a responsibility to continue the phenomenal work that she has done over the past 12 months in bringing Big Local to life through her features, blogs, interviews, and podcasts.

Lastly, but most importantly, if you want to meet to visit your Big Local, if you think you have a story about a project or a person that you want to share, please do contact me and I hope to see you at some point between now and next October. Have laptop, will travel.