With its park, bustling market and abundance of historical treasures, Greenwich has long been an attractive place to raise children. But how can parents make the most of what’s on offer? We find out.
It is no secret that mums are a powerful force on the internet. Typified by the likes of Mumsnet, which draws 50 million hits a month, parenting websites have brought together mothers from every walk of life. From nappy-related gripes to national campaigns, no issue is out of bounds – this is about the personal and the political in equal measure.
What is less widely discussed is the role of the web in strengthening local communities. So often is the internet credited with making the world a smaller place that its importance is often forgotten at a neighbourhood level. How can social media help mums (and dads) get the best from the area they live in?
This was a key question for Rebecca Thomson when she moved to Greenwich in 2010. The mother of newborn twins, she was struck by the lack of up-to-date information about things to do with kids. Where was the local review site, she wondered – a place where parents could swap unbiased opinions about where to go and what to avoid?
“At that time there were lots of adverts around describing the services available, but nothing from other parents,” she says. “Essentially, everything was described as fantastic, and we all know as consumers that’s often not the case. It certainly wasn’t the reality I learned when walking around the area with a pram.”
These observations gave rise to Greenwichmums.com, which she founded together with her husband to help parents in a similar position. Originally a simple recommendations website, it soon grew into a thriving community hub. Today, it boasts a social network functionality, a jobs board and even a loyalty card.
“Greenwichmums wants to help local people live a better life,” says Thomson. “Now, that could mean finding a nursery or a childminder, a kids’ activity or details on somewhere to eat, but equally it could mean finding a job, a new friend who shares your interests or even simply a night out. That’s what we try to do.”
The website is not just targeted at mums. Over the three years since its inception, Thomson has worked with businesses in their droves, from kitchen-table entrepreneurs right through to the Royal Museum. The proposition is simple: sign up for a business package (comprising on and offline marketing, social media, video, offers and email campaigns) and the website will help you promote your services to its sizeable user base.
“We’ve learned a thing or two about this area, and that’s what we pass on to our clients,” says Thomson. “Our MarketMums programme with Shop Greenwich has been especially good, because we’re helping people trade regularly for the first time.”
A site on a similar mission is the Greenwich branch of Mumsnet Local. As part of a much larger phenomenon, this site follows the Mumsnet formula: listings, local services, meet-ups, talk boards and a bustling What’s On section, all of which are specific to SE10.
“I spend most of my time on the Twitter and Facebook accounts promoting up-and-coming events and encouraging businesses to add free listings to our directory,” says Ria Ramsey, the local editor. “The What’s On section is a great tool for local mums, especially for planning how to keep the kids entertained during school holidays.”
Both Ramsey and Thomson cite the borough as a great place to live and bring up kids. Being mums themselves, not to mention Greenwich residents, their online endeavours come from a place of genuine insight. Ramsey waxes effusive about the historical treasures, the tranquillity of the park and the “shoppers’ paradise” of the market, whereas Thomson notes the spirit of kinship among residents.
“It’s funny that before we moved here we didn’t really ‘get’ Greenwich, as our experience of it would only be at the weekend with the other thousands and thousands of people,” she recalls. “But living here, with everything in walking distance, turned it into this real community for us.”
It is clear that websites such as hers, and Ramsey’s, occupy a critical niche within that community. While, first and foremost, they make life easier for anyone raising kids, they also forge links between mums in a similar position and raise awareness of any burning local issues.
“I think you only have to look at the Twitter frenzy created surrounding the potential Lewisham Hospital closure to see how fantastic social media can be in creating a sense of local community,” points out Ramsey. “My Twitter feed was full of messages of support on the days the case was in the High Court.”
“Used in the right way, we see social media as an enabler,” agrees Thomson. “It’s something that can bring a community together, making people become even closer by keeping them connected and up to date with what’s going on. That’s certainly how we try to use it with Greenwichmums.”
This article appears in the Winter 2013 edition of Greenwich magazine.