Community

Why do we do it?

When COVID-19 hit and lockdown happened, it affected us all. But there was one thing we at The Moment knew we did not want to do: stop. So, we kept going, publishing daily and weekly bulletins of news and community information, as well as producing a full (virtual) June issue. This was not to be a usual issue by any means – there were no venues open, no shows, no shops, no days out. So why did we do it? Here, Moment editor Toby Venables explains why we do what we do, how it forges and maintains vital connections in Peterborough’s communities and how – through crowdfunding – you can now get directly involved helping us to do better for this city.

Let me start with some bold statements. How we feel about our city really matters. The image we project out into the wider world through the words and pictures we choose and the stories we tell has profound implications – to the way the world sees us, but also how we see ourselves – even to our wellbeing. When confidence falters, everything does.

As you know, The Moment has never been one to stand by. For ten years we have worked tirelessly to foster a shared sense of ownership and community, to help create a better Peterborough for all. We do this largely through stories. Stories may seem fragile, even trivial things, but they’re quite the opposite. Culture, arts and heritage are the sectors that really bring communities together and create a sense of worth – but they are also notoriously difficult to monetise, which is why we have always passionately supported them. They face huge challenges in 2020 – but right now we need them, and they need us, more than ever. The fact is, if we don’t do what we do, no one will. And that’s why we need your help.

By now, you’re probably thinking: ‘What on earth is he talking about?’ To attempt an explanation, I invite you to leave Earth for a moment…

“The separation is very explosive – 14 pyrotechnic bolts going off right next to your head. Then it’s just this eerie few minutes when the spacecraft is tumbling end over end, really in a very uncontrolled fashion, just waiting for the top of the atmosphere to put the spacecraft back in the correct orientation. And that’s crazy… It’s that initial resistance that rights the capsule to come in heatshield-first. It’s smooth but loud, with a gradual increase of deceleration, which is thankful because we’ve spent six months without gravity.

“You don’t want to go straight to 8Gs [8 x Earth gravity], which would be very punishing. By the time you’re getting towards 6Gs, where you’re clenching the stomach and you’re really having to work hard to breathe and it feels like there’s an elephant on your chest, you’re kind of ready for it. The noise then is like wind rushing past a car at high speed. In the initial stages it’s not wind, of course, it’s plasma going past the capsule, but then as you descend it’s air – and that is also slowing you down from around 25 x the speed of sound to just about the speed of sound – slow enough that the braking parachutes can be opened. And that involves heat! We get very, very hot inside the capsule.

“It’s not pleasant inside the capsule! It hurts. It’s very aggressive, and the capsule is swinging wildly underneath the series of chutes – it’s a rollercoaster ride… Finally, when the main canopy opens, everything goes quiet and settles down, and then we have about 15 minutes before hitting the steppes of Kazakhstan. That is a hard landing, without a doubt. We have these soft-landing thrusters that fire about 0.6 of a metre off the ground to just try and cushion the blow a little bit. But it’s still a car crash when you hit. There’s no cushioning in that spacecraft, either – it just slams you into the ground. We cross our arms over our chests, make sure our tongues aren’t between our teeth, and we really do brace ourselves as if in an aircraft that’s about to crash…”

This is the first-hand account of British astronaut Major Tim Peake’s return to Earth on 18 June 2016, after 186 days in space. In August 2018, the Soyuz his two fellow astronauts safely home went on display in Peterborough Cathedral, and we interviewed him ahead of that. We didn’t need to. There were plenty of press releases, quotes and video clips out there. It also was quite a logistical challenge. At first, it didn’t seem like it would happen at all – but we pursued it all the same. I mean, who wouldn’t want to talk to an astronaut? We filled the forms making the official request and filed them with the European Space Agency. Around 20 emails were exchanged. We had no idea whether we would get anywhere, or if the interview could be done in time to meet the looming publishing deadline. Getting to speak with astronauts is not easy – as the ESA website points out, they are busy people. Often, they are in intense periods of training. Sometimes, they’re in space.

Finally, it was arranged. We phoned an office in the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, went through checks with the ESA liaison, and then there on the line was Major Tim…

Was it worth all that? Well, you decide. We think so. But it’s not just about the thrill of getting to speak to a real, live astronaut – exciting as that is – it’s about an attitude to the magazine as a whole, to the city – and to our readers. Peterborough is worth it. You are worth it.

This approach has, on occasion, yielded material that we never could have got otherwise – material unique to us, and specifically related to this city. One example was our interview with a former Northampton shoe saleman named Des O’Connor. A massive star in his own right, he was also known for his association with Morecambe and Wise, who made him the butt of their jokes for almost their entire careers (in reality all were firm friends). He was due to visit the Key Theatre in 2015, and we leapt at the chance to talk to him. And I’m glad we did, because right at the start of the interview, he said this:

“I came to Peterborough in 1954 in Ernie Wise’s car. He had a car, and I didn’t – I earned about five pounds a week, it was a bit hand-to-mouth – so he gave me a lift to Peterborough where he and his wife Doreen had a house, then I hitchhiked to Northampton wher my parents were living. So, I do have a bit of a history with Peterborough. In fact, I love the place. The place I really got the bug for the theatre was the Embassy, Peterborough. I was stationed in Huntingdon, and I’d go there every Thursday night. I also played semi-pro football for Northampton, and we played at Peterborough. There are a lot of connections with the city, so I’m really looking forward to playing there again!”

So there it is. Something personal, something special to him and unique to us – and by us, I don’t just mean The Moment, I mean Peterborough itself. He has a history with the place, and a really significant one. And reading that, don’t you feel a small glow of pride? Don’t you feel a little more that Peterborough really matters, that it is a part of our wider culture and has something genuinely worthwhile to offer, despite what the naysayers all-too-frequently suggest?

If we’d just gone with the press release or syndicated interview, we would never have found this out. Nor would we have learned from legendary rock musician Rick Wakeman that he once owned a flight-case company based in Peterborough, nor that comedian Jo Caulfield first met the then unknown Graham Norton here – forging a relationship that changed both their careers: “I gave him a lift back to London – and it’s just as well I did because we became friends and he gave me my first big break on his C4 show warming up the audience, and employed me for years as his writer.”

Apart from anything else, it’s about acknowledging – and celebrating – Peterborough’s significant place in the world, and in history. It’s perhaps for this reason that we have been such avid supporters of the city’s Heritage Festival, which sets out with exactly that aim, and the Peterborough 900 celebrations that took place throughout 2018. After all, beyond the anecdotes and great moments shared with comedians and musicians, there is a truly rich history to be celebrated here.

It was Peterborough Cathedral that attracted Tim Peake’s spacecraft to the city and made its display possible, and when Jethro Tull front man and prog rock legend Ian Anderson came to perform there over Christmas 2017 it wasn’t just another stop at a venue. In our interview with him, he explained:

“I would say that most of the time audiences that come to our cathedral shows are substantially not regular attendees of church or cathedrals. Indeed, many of them who live in the town may walk past their cathedral every day without giving it a second glance. My role is to try and get them through the door, and should they emerge born again, renewed with spiritual vigour, then that’s fine, that’s good. I have no problem with that but that’s not what I’m there to do. I’m not there to be an evangelist, I’m there to be a pragmatist and try and make people aware of the community asset, which is their church or cathedral – because they won’t be making any more of them! And that’s why I’m playing at Peterborough.”

Encouraging others to value what they have, to feel a greater sense of pride in themselves and their home city, is a principle we have had with us from the very start. A founding principle, really. Sometimes, though, it takes someone coming from outside and expressing wonder to remind us how great it is – and even to cut through the problems that the city has to present something positive and potentially inspirational. In 2018, historian Dr David Starkey made one his visits to the city, and of course we talked to him about its history:

“I think one of the challenges with Peterborough is that there has been this attempt to transform it and remake it anew, while on the other hand there is this extraordinary antiquity and beauty with the Cathedral. A new town has been wrapped around something very ancient and very remarkable. And I think that the only way a place like that is going to work is when there is an integration of old and new, and the example of the Muslim choirboy singing in an Anglican choir is a fascinating instance of that. In many places, partly as a result of Brexit, partly as a result of social and economic turmoil, there is a very real desire for some sort of identity, and if new Peterborough does not have an identity then by definition it has to forge a new one. Or a renewed one. But the components of history will be an absolutely fundamental part of that. Were I in charge of marketing Peterborough, I would probably start talking about Peterborough Abbey rather than Peterborough Cathedral, and reconnecting with that almost 1,000 year history. As a standing structure, the Cathedral – or Abbey, or whatever you wish to call it – takes us back directly to all these things we have been talking about. It also remains a functioning institution, and one you can be a part of. As a place where identities have been redefined, changed, fought over, that is almost an emblem of what will be the new England.”

Wow. We all know Katherine of Aragon is buried here – it’s the reason Alison Weir launched her biography of Queen Katherine at the cathedral (and yes, we interviewed her about that too) – but what Starkey’s words emphasise is that heritage is not just about the past, or about relics. It’s ongoing. It’s building on what came before. And there is also a truly great and fascinating story that is worth telling.

We discovered just how deep the story goes when we interviewed Cambridge archaeologist Mark Knight, who was heading up the excavations at Must Farm – and were among the first to reveal and talk about some of the new finds there. His words, describing the moments of sheer wonder when new discoveries were made, have a fascinating resonance with David Starkey’s:

“Things that don’t survive on dry land are present here in abundance, with every layer richer than the last. That can be a bonus, but it’s also a headache in that you can barely move for materials! You feel like you just turnd up a few weeks too late to meet the people, rather than 3,000 years having passed. When you peel the sediment away you get bits of wood that look like they were held yesterday – beautiful yellows and pinks and browns. They start to decay before your eyes, but you do feel this strange collapsing of time.”

I loved this moment of the interview and its notion of the ‘strange collapsing of time’ – the mystery and intrigue of this distant Bronze Age world colliding with the excitement and immediacy of Mark Knight’s experience here and now. Plus, it’s simply a great story.

We’ve always believed stories – everyone’s stories – are important. They don’t just amuse us. They move us – and much more besides. Storytelling is fundamentally what we are about, whether it’s us telling it, or one of our many interviewees – be they great or small, of international standing or simply of local significance. Both are equally important; there’s no point courting celebrities at the expense of local people and issues.

From the very start, our mission was clear, and in essence had two general aims. We wanted to improve the standard of publishing in the city, raising it to a level that matched the real aspirations and expectations of the city’s communities. National mainstream media isn’t (for the most part) telling bigger, more compelling stories than local media because it’s better, or wealthier, or has more talented writers, designers and photographers. It does so because most local media just doesn’t think it justifies the effort. From a resource point of view, that makes sense. Local media has far fewer to draw on than the big titles. But what does this say to your readership? “You’re not worth it. This isn’t London. If you want the good stuff, go to the nationals…” Accepting scraps, acknowledging that we’re second best, just making do… That was precisely what we set out not to do. We were determined to be different.

In this we’ve been lucky enough to have benefited from numerous partnerships, sponsorships and general expressions of support from a whole range of people who shared that ethos and placed their trust in us, including Peterborough City Council, Perkins Engines, University Centre Peterborough and Vivacity.

But we also wanted to make a difference, and to do right by Peterborough. By that I mean that we were not content merely to entertain (although I think we do that pretty well) nor to reflect the city as it is (although we aim to do that too). We have striven to become an active part of the culture of the city – a force for positive change. To that end, we have also invested heavily in our own project over the years – not just in terms of money, but in terms of our time and personal commitment.

And it is personal for us. The route we have taken, steadfastly refusing to compromise on quality or to cut corners for the sake of ease or quicker profits, does require more effort on our part. We work long hours to achieve what we do, because we believe in it and are passionate about the city and its culture. And that doesn’t start at 9 and finish at 5. One thing that spurs us is the sure knowledge that if we were not doing what we were doing, no one else would.

The power of positive content has proved its worth. All of it is also posted on our website, tweeted and retweeted, and has literally helped to put Peterborough on the map. When we interviewed RSC actor Lucian Msamati – who appeared as Salladhor Saan in Game of Thrones – we tweeted the interview at the official GoT account, and got retweeted. That’s original Peterborough content going out to 8.3 million people.

It’s not just about the celebrities, though. When it comes to championing Peterborough’s own achievements past and present – as well as its future potential – we have, time and again, been first to give it proper coverage, talking to the people who really matter and allowing them to express their views in their own words. We interviewed Peterborough businessman and benefactor Peter Boizot about the ways he shaped the city he loved. We talked to local poet, teacher and battle rapper Mark Grist about issues of local education (and poetry). We spent time with palaeontologist Jeff Liston who, behind the scenes at Peterborough Museum, was piecing together a vast prehistoric skeleton discovered in a nearby clay pit – a jigsaw of 2,300 bones belonging to Leedsichthys problematicus, the largest fish that ever lived. Is everyone going to be interested in that? Possibly not. But that’s OK. The Moment has always been aspirational. It has always presented a broad view of Peterborough, and in the most positive way possible, without judging or pigeonholing its residents.

Sometimes it has simply been the story of someone who has improved their life by visiting the gym, or had their child’s life changed for the better by the inspirational people at Peterborough Music Hub.

When it comes to Peterborough’s businesses, we of course give them active support – large and small, from Perkins to local gastro pubs. But perhaps more important is the fact that we also look beyond the city and regional boundaries. We are reaching out to people – and for many businesses, tourists or others considering studying, living or working here, we may well be the first point of contact. Being instrumental in forming first impressions of Peterborough and its surroundings make it all the more critical that we present the city and its culture positively and with the confidence it deserves – and we take that responsibility seriously. It’s part of our mission. And we know that works, too.

When we first interviewed Council Leader John Holdich, he happily participated whilst expressing some doubt as to whether people would really be interested.

We knew they would – and its impact didn’t stop at the city limits. Some time later, after the issue came out, John traveled to a meeting in Covent Garden. When he arrived, he found they had a copy of The Moment – containing his interview – on the desk. Comments from those he was meeting with were overwhelming positive. First impressions clearly matter.

When COVID-19 hit, everything changed. Well, not quite everything. We have all had to adapt, but we still have to rely on our core skills to get us through it, even if that means using them in a new way. It has been far from business as usual for us – but even though there have been no open shops, pubs or restaurants, no venues, no shows, no visiting comedians, musicians or artists of any kind, we have carried on doing what we do best. If anything, it seemed more important to do that now than ever. The work may be harder, income may be reduced, but what’s the alternative? Doing nothing? That’s not us.

Last issue – the June issue – we focused on community leaders, and once again interviewed Council Leader John Holdich about the crisis, as well as Combined

Authority Mayor James Palmer, Dean of Peterborough Chris Dalliston and Peterborough MP Paul Bristow. All talked about the impact of COVID-19 in both practical and personal terms. We also talked to two students at UCP, one of whom was in lockdown on campus, far from his home. These were particularly inspirational stories, showing just how well people can pull together. This issue, we have shifted the focus to local heroes – those people who may not be well-known or widely talked about, but who are getting on with helping those in need. We’re not just a conduit for celebrity voices, we’re about giving a voice to those who otherwise may not have one.

And we need those stories now. The daily doom and gloom is all very well – we have to be kept aware of the facts – but that alone doesn’t help lift people out of their current circumstances. We all have a new appreciation of those who go silently about their business, helping others – the carers, the volunteers, the rubbish collectors, the doctors and nurses – but every time their stories are told, it inspires new, positive acts. This is the kind of change we always set out to make.

We know The Moment can help do this. And that brings me to one more person who I want to quote here. She’s not famous. You won’t know her name (we’re keeping it private anyway). Her story is, nonetheless, probably the most important in this entire feature.

Some time ago, long before COVID-19, we had a phone call. Our publisher and founder, Mark Wilson, answered, only to have the caller immediately hang up. He called the number back and got talking. The caller, of Asian heritage, had lived in Peterborough all her life. A survivor of an abusive relationship, she was now the single mother of an eight-year-old daughter and suffered from acute anxiety and depression. The reason she had phoned was simply to say thank you – but she had lost confidence at the last moment. Until recently, she said, she had rarely ventured out in Peterborough, preferring to go to Cambridge or Leicester. She had originally picked up The Moment magazine in Queensgate and it inspired her to join a gym. Exercise had kept her motivated. Nevertheless, making the phone call was a big deal for her. Had Mark not happened to call back we may never have known her story. After the call, she wrote to us. This is what she said:

The Moment magazine is colourful and full of light: positive! Because of the magazine I now go into the city centre and Cathedral Square. I’ve not been there since I was a young girl, because I was scared about crime. The local news makes me scared to go out. 

I even took my daughter for a walk along the river embankment and couldn’t believe just how beautiful it was: just like the pictures in your magazine and how the magazine describes. No other magazine makes me feel that way about my own city. It makes me feel comfortable and safe in my own city.

It represents Peterborough as it really is: a really diverse and positive place. It encourages me to get out and about. All positives and no negatives. I only see grey and bland coverage elsewhere. Your magazine shines a very positive light on the city rather than the doom and gloom of others. It is a total contrast to the negative perception that so many people have of Peterborough. The city should be using The Moment to promote Peterborough nationally.

I read the magazine to find out what is going on, and it’s all I need. I now have the confidence to go out, and the magazine keeps me motivated, just like my exercise.

To say we were bowled over by this is an understatement – but it confirmed, in just one message, that everything we were doing was worthwhile, and that it could continue to be. That it could, perhaps, do even more.

Now we are presenting a new way for people to get involved, and to help with this process. We are opening up the possibilities for those who wish to support us to do so directly via crowdfunding. Large or small, businesses or individuals, it doesn’t matter – but by plugging directly into the community in this way we’re showing our faith in the city that has put its faith in us for over a decade.

Take a look at the details below, and see what you think. If we can work together, everyone stands to benefit.

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