I recently interviewed Kate Burt, editor of south London’s new daily online magazine, the great belowtheriver.co.uk She told me a bit about herself, the magazine, what’s great about south London living and why Londoners CAN move around the capital!
Londoners always seem quite tribal about being from north or south of the river. Do you think that still applies?
Yes and no. There’s a hard core who will always feel that way, but it saddens me. What it really comes down to is not superior places, but familiarity – and where your friends live. I’m in south London because I was born here and my best primary school and secondary school friends still live within walking distance. But my boyfriend is from north London – and I have loved being given the tourist tour of all his favourite places, ditto with Below the River’s sister site, Kentishtowner: through them I’ve discovered heaps of north London gems I’d never have known about and enjoyed. (I should point out however that my boyfriend and I recently moved in together… in south London… ha ha.)
Are people more willing to migrate either way?
See above. Though I do think that was an unusual exception. That said, I know of various people who have recently made leaps both ways. I think there’s actually something lovely about moving somewhere that people feel tribal about – because they will generally be gentle with you as they know how big a move it would be the other way. Ultimately, though, London – until you hit the suburbs – is pretty small and everywhere is accessible. We should all make more use of that as well as the stuff in our community and on our doorsteps. It is a great city – north, south and east (I would falter at west, however… that does feel like a different city in places – just me?)
As you say in your intro to the magazine, south of the river used to get a fairly bad press. What do you think marked the change in attitudes and when do you think the change began?
It’s cheaper. Eventually all things come to what they can afford – and decide to love it.
South of the river is a huge area to cover – how do you try and make sure you’re covering all the areas?
It’s hard! But the area we’ve naturally decided to cover – broadly the blob that spreads downwards along the curves of the Thames beneath London Bridge/the tip of Southwark – feels like a natural trail in a way. I live in SW9 but spend lots of time in SW2, Herne Hill, Loughborough Junction, Peckham, Camberwell, London Bridge, Deptford, Waterloo, the South Bank… And I think other south Londoners will have equivalent orbits. And I have stringers in the most far flung spots! That said – we are after new writers and reviewers – so please email email@example.com if interested.
What have been the main challenges in setting up belowtheriver?
To do it well you need to have more hours than the ones available. Other than that, I’m quite astounded at how smooth it’s been to go from a blank website (in Feb 2013) to launching in March, to gaining 20,000 monthly readers during the subsequent four months… and SO much positive feedback. It feels like we are part of a family that was there waiting to welcome us. People seem to really like what we do.
Have there been any stand-out highs and lows so far?
I’ve lived in south London all my life. Starting this website I have seen it almost as a tourist and discovered so much great stuff and fantastic people doing amazing things locally that I just didn’t know about. Knowing I’m now in a position to share all this great stuff to other people who didn’t know about it is pretty exciting too. Lows? Gah. Time versus money, the usual. But mainly we (as in me and the little publishing company behind Below the River and the award-winning Kentishtowner.co.uk) are just excited about the plans we have and how we are doing the best jobs we could ever have imagined doing.
As a born south Londoner are there any particular features you especially love about the vibe of south London and how do you think it’s changed?
I love that it’s got a bit more respect these days. And that taxis don’t flinch when you tell them where you want to go. I love that – in my bit of south London, and – pretty much – Below the River’s patch – it is a hugely varied, vibrant place. I fear for the bland, over-priced homogenisation of certain corners however…
Brixton Village and a lot of privately funded housing is going up in and around south London – obviously we need a lot more housing – what is your opinion on the gentrification debate. Ie development being good for an area but sometimes leading to locals being priced out?
I get very emotional about gentrification. It’s great that Brixton Market is now full of life again – but do the people flocking to eat from delicious menus ever do their shopping from the greengrocers and butchers there? I think the problem with it is that there’s no Gentrification Monitor to say when enough is enough – there’s always a tipping point, though I like to think people have learnt from Spitalfields. Change – and young, independent businesses – arriving: amazing. Lack of integration: saddening. Hiked prices, ditto. It’s about balance and that is something that is often lacking. It’s extremely complex – and I wish I was the Gentrification Monitor. I would be totally fascist about using the arrival of good new stuff to support the good old stuff and make everyone appreciate each other. But that would probably never work.
If I said ‘south London’ to you – what six buildings/communities/events would spring to mind immediately?
The Michael Faraday Memorial (aka, as I thought for much of the 1990s, the Aphex Twin’s House. I loved the idea of that)
The House in the Junction (a new addition – they really make me feel warm inside)
How much interaction are you finding with local writers, photographers and creative?
We’d like more! But there’s so much talent – they’re all really busy. So interaction in terms of people to write ABOUT has been amazing.
And lastly how important is social media to the magazine – and do you see a print version of belowtheriver in the future?
There are plans for some interesting print collaborations afoot… And as for social media – it is absolutely vital to us.