Neil Thompson says the internet age is offering new opportunities to create virtual communities
Wrexham has long been the largest town in north Wales and, since Newport became a city, it is now technically the largest town in Wales. I was born and brought up there and, apart from my time at university in London, I have always lived there. So, Wrexham is home for me, and I have always appreciated how much it has to offer in terms of facilities, history and heritage; and location. But what has struck me over the years is that there are so many people who are not so positive, not so appreciative.
I realise, of course, that it is not uncommon for a ‘the grass is greener’ mentality to lead people to take their home town for granted and see it in unduly negative terms compared with other places. And, with Wrexham being so close to Chester (a place that so many people understandably love), some degree of invidious comparison is perhaps inevitable. However, the negativity that so many people express towards Wrexham goes beyond what we would normally expect of people who have become blind to their home territory’s attractions and charms.
It was with this sense of my home town being so undervalued that I decided to develop an online community for Wrexham. The aim is to make it a focal point for the town’s residents, commuting workers, business owners and students as well as its diaspora, citizens who have moved far and wide but still retain an interest in their roots. The site shares information and views, and provides a space to learn from one another and support each other. My vision was that it would be a place where people from the various ‘domains’ of Wrexham life – business, public service, voluntary endeavour, education, faith communities, politics and, of course, the lives of everyday citizens – could talk about what matters to them and where they are trying to get to in their world.
So, livingWrexham was born. It has blogs, discussion forums, announcements, articles, reviews, links to other relevant sites, a directory of local businesses and services, a gallery of photos, access to Wrexham’s Facebook and other social media presence and a ‘Wrexham Wiki’ facility. Consequently the site has the potential to be an important focal point for everyone connected with or interested in the town and its surrounding areas.
A launch date of 1st March, St David’s Day confirms the site’s commitment to Wrexham as a Welsh town. Some people make the mistake of thinking that Wrexham’s proximity to the English border somehow makes it less than fully Welsh. In reality, it is Wrexham’s distinctiveness as a strongly Welsh town, but one which connects so fully to the wider world (and not just England) that makes it such a fascinating place.
Part of Wrexham’s appeal for me is that it is a down-to-earth place, with no pretentious airs and graces. Yet it has culture in plenty with 2011 being Wrexham’s Year of Culture, not least because the National Eisteddfod is taking place in the town this August. It also boasts Wales’ newest university, Glyndŵr.
Could livingWrexham serve as a model for other Welsh communities to take pride in what they have to offer, in their Welsh pedigree and their social, historical and cultural richness? Can online communities like livingWrexham provide a basis for affirming and celebrating what Welsh communities can rightly be proud of?
The potential is certainly there, but much will depend on whether the people who can benefit from the success of such an online community are prepared to play their part in bringing about that success in the first place. The idea of ‘community’ is based on people coming together for common cause.
In this technological age we can see how traditional communities are under threat. The ‘global village’ leaves little room for real villages to bring people together to the extent that they used to. Perhaps the idea of an ‘online community’, born of the internet age, can help make some amends for the damage done by the worshipping of technology. Surely they can provide new opportunities for people to come together in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling.
Dr Neil Thompson’s latest book is Effective Communication (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). A Life Fellow of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, his website is at www.neilthompson.info. livingWrexham is at www.livingwrexham.co.uk. Membership is free. For an overview of what Wrexham offers, see the What’s So Good About Wrexham? special report that is given free to everyone who signs up as a member of the livingWrexham online community.