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Chancellor’s Community Newsletter 1982 – 2015

The final issue of Chancellor’s Community Newsletter - pdf of cover below
The final issue of Chancellor’s Community Newsletter - pdf of cover below

For 33 years a group of volunteers teamed together to publish a community newsletter delivered free-of-charge to every local home and business.

The Chancellor’s Community Newsletter, which began life in 1982 as part of a campaign to save Chancellor's School from closure, soon became essential reading for people living as far away as Hatfield, Cuffley, and Potters Bar.

By the time it closed in 2015 a total of 384,750 copies had been produced.

Lilian Caras, one of the editorial team on the newsletter from 1984 to 1998 looks back at the history of what became “a focal point of the local community”.

The history of Chancellor’s Community Newsletter 1982 – 2015

By Lilian Caras

In the winter of 1979/80 Hertfordshire County Council released a consultative document on the future of its secondary school provision. It contained a proposal to close Chancellor’s School in Brookmans Park.

Community opposition to the plan led to the formation of an action committee made up of 17 members (from 75 volunteers). Chairing the group were the school’s headteacher, Frank Maynard, and the first parent governor, George Shiells.

In March 1980 the action committee issued a newsletter with the banner ‘Save Chancellor’s Campaign’. Eleven newsletters later, in May 1981, Chancellor’s School was saved.

Throughout the campaign it became clear that there was a lack of information locally about what the school did and its achievements. The action committee decided to resolve this.

As a result, the Chancellor’s Community Newsletter was launched. The aim was to inform the local community about the school and to give a voice to other organisations in the community. Click on the image for a larger version.   

The first issue of the Chancellor’s Community Newsletter
The first issue of the Chancellor’s Community Newsletter

 Writing in the first issue in May 1982, George Shiells, the chair of the Chancellors Community Council said he’d been “pleasantly surprised” by the demand for the newsletter.
“Conceitedly, of course, I assumed that this was because of the high drama of its contents and the superb flair of its editor. More sober reflection, however, led me to believe that the newsletter filled a local need – that of a community focal point.”
Shiells wrote that local weekly newspapers could not be expected to look in depth at village life and, as a result, the newsletter would play that role.
“Today, we offer the first issue of the Chancellors Community Newsletter as a means of bridging that gap. It will be distributed to households in Brookmans Park, Welham Green and the surrounding villages, plus parts of South Hatfield, Potters Bar and Cuffley.”
He announced that the focus of the newsletter would change from “what may seem to be an undue emphasis on Chancellors [sic] School”, to include local primary schools, clubs, associations, forthcoming events, and any new and interesting items worthy of wider recognition.

Shiells said the newsletter would be published three times a year, and that it would be self-financing and not dependent on funds from Chancellor’s School or other educational sources. And he welcomed the “splendid support given by local traders and companies by way of advertising”, which he said he hoped would ensure the production of a “well-balanced newsletter” to “help strengthen the bonds between the villages and the urban parts of our community”.

Today, when most people have access to the internet it is easy to forget when this was not the case. In the early 1980s, few private homes had personal computers other than rudimentary electronic typewriters or simple games machines. So apart from visits to libraries, archive collections, reference books, television or radio, the only other access to information was print. The newsletter’s launch helped fill this vacuum, especially at the community level where there was a demand for local news.

The original print run was 3,500 copies. This grew to 6,000 by the newsletter’s 10th anniversary, and continued at the same level for 17 years, only dropping back to 5,000 for the last seven years due to production costs. The size of the newsletter grew from the original four pages in the first edition to 32 in 1992. Thereafter 40 pages became the norm until its final edition in 2015.

Apart from copies delivered to local residences and Chancellor’s pupils, a postal service was set up for ex-school pupils, staff and residents who had moved away from the area. Copies were also deposited at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) at Hertfordshire County Hall.

Articles from local organisations, societies, groups, churches and primary schools came pouring in and the newsletter’s editorial team tried to accommodate them if at all possible. No legitimate community group or society was turned away if there was space. Click on the image for a larger version.   

The 10th anniversary of the newsletter featured in the May 1992 issue
The 10th anniversary of the newsletter featured in the May 1992 issue

Issue 25, published in the newsletter’s 10th anniversary year, had entries from all the major local community organisations in North Mymms, the parish in which Chancellor’s School is based. There were also groups and organisations in neighbouring parishes. 

The organisations featured included: North Mymms Parish CouncilNorth Mymms Youth and Community CentreNorth Mymms Residents AssociationNorth Mymms and District Green Belt Society, 2nd Hatfield (1st Brookmans Park) Scout Group, North Mymms District Brownies and Guides, North Mymms Horticultural Society, North Mymms Local History Society, Cuffley & Northaw Youth & Community Centre, Cuffley Floral ArtCuffley Horticultural SocietyMill Green MuseumCarer’s Support GroupFriends of the Earth, Nepal Friendship Link, Gobions Woodland TrustRoyal Veterinary College’s Animal Care TrustRoyal National Lifeboat Institution (Hatfield Branch), Neighbourhood WatchBrookmans Park Rotary ClubCuffley HallCuffley Operatic SocietyBrookmans Park United Reformed ChurchSt Mary’s Church, North MymmsSt Thomas Church in Northaw, and Potters Bar Art Group.

In later years other groups became regular contributors including the Women’s Institute, museums and various other youth organisations.

There were sections on local history, gardening, floral art and horticulture, births, weddings, engagements, sports, a legal bulletin, and there were entries from 14 primary schools from Brookmans Park, Hatfield, Cuffley, Colney Heath, Little Heath and Potters Bar. 

In 2002, by the time the newsletter had been going for 20 years, many of the same primary schools, groups and organisations were still contributing articles as they were 10 years before but with more additions, such as the WEA (Workers Education Council), Welham Green Rail Users Group, St Thomas More Church Welham Green, North Mymms Memorial Hall, Potters Bar Theatre Group, Capital Arts Theatre School and Welwyn Hatfield Council for Voluntary Service

The biggest number of new entries came from sports clubs, possibly due to the appointment of a dedicated joint editor for sport in 1998. These included North Mymms Cricket Club, Potters Bar Synchromised Swimming Club, Potters Bar Gymnastics Club, Brookmans Park Lawn Tennis Club, Brookmans Park Golf Club, and the badminton club in Brookmans Park. There were also many more primary schools including from, Essendon and South Mimms.

At least one whole page called ‘For your diary’ was devoted to community events. Other content included pieces about individuals who were prominent in the local community.

Managing all this was an enthusiastic and determined band of volunteers covering duties ranging from editorial, advertising and distribution.

During the newsletter’s 34 years there were just four editors, Sue Weisberg, Lilian Caras, Lyn and George Shiells. Of those, one person stands out as making a significant and prolonged contribution and that is Lyn Shiells, the wife of the founder George Shiells. She was involved in some capacity for 32 years having a hand in 66 of the 71 issues published and being the driving force behind the newsletter’s longevity.

When I stood down for career reasons in 1998 after a 14-year association with the newsletter, there was a reorganisation because of the volume of work involved in collecting and editing articles.

For issue 38 in November 1998 there was no overall editor but six joint editors. Although the role of general editor was introduced in 2004 for management purposes, this joint editorial team format continued until the last issue in 2015, although with some changes in personnel.

Three teachers at Chancellor’s School acted as a link to the newsletter in its 34 years of publication. These members of staff played an important role in community engagement.

Distribution of the newsletter was a mammoth undertaking. Thousands of copies were delivered to the distribution managers who in turn passed copies to those delivering to the area’s homes. Hundreds of volunteers were recruited to deliver the newsletter door-to-door. They worked like well-drilled, operational professionals.

A list of all those who had volunteer roles in the newsletter teams can be found at the bottom of this article.

When the future of the school was at threat in the early 1980s, the action committee also realised that the community and prospective parents and pupils did not have sufficient information on which to base their choices at the secondary transfer stage.

Given that the government only started to publish data on school attainment at GCSE in 1992, it was left to schools themselves to inform the community of the range of activities that took place within their boundaries. The newsletter was the perfect medium to achieve this for Chancellor’s. There were articles on attainment, music, theatre, school trips, sports, charitable fundraising, clubs, book events and much more.

Regular columns included reports from the headteacher and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). There were also topical, informative articles about changes in national education policies and how they affected the school. A column recorded what pupils did after they left the school, which was interesting and, at times, inspiring.

The newsletter was set up to be self-financing, not for profit, and to be delivered free of charge. Funding was raised through advertising from local shops and businesses, although donations were received from members of the community, businesses and the occasional grant. Any income was used to cover typesetting and printing costs. The role of the advertising manager was vital, without which there would have been no newsletter.

Much hard work was done to develop and maintain links with advertisers starting with Chris Measures and his wife Jayne in 1982. They continued in the role until 1989, and secured funding for the first 19 issues. When they stood down, Lyn Shiells took over the role of managing the advertising for 52 issues from 1989 to 2015.

Megan Lumb was responsible for the colossal task of word processing every article submitted in preparation for typesetting. She had to work at great speed in order to meet publication deadlines, and did so for about 40 issues from 1996 to 2015. Paul Wolstencroft took over typesetting from 1984 to 2015 and improved the readability and professional format of the newsletter.

The newsletter entered two competitions. The first was the Hertfordshire Village Newsletter Competition 1987 organised by Hertfordshire Community Council and Hertfordshire Countryside Magazine.

The newsletter was commended by the judges as the most “professionally produced” in the competition, but it was noted that it was only produced twice a year and had more time than a monthly to get it right. Despite this the newsletter was commended as runner-up. After five years and just 15 issues this was quite an achievement.

The second was a competition run by the British Association of Communicators in Business in 1995 and was for community publications from six counties in the East of England: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire. Click on the image for a larger version.   

The front page of issue 33, May 1996
The front page of issue 33, May 1996

Out of 158 entries the newsletter was chosen as one of 13 finalists. The competition set out to recognise the dedication of so many people in the community who gave their time, on a voluntary basis, to communicate local information across a wide range of interest groups. The newsletter team was invited, courtesy of Great Eastern Railway and Anglia Railway, to attend the awards dinner at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge in December 1995 where the newsletter was awarded second place.

In presenting the winners, Mike Almond, editor of the Royston Crow newspaper, said the newsletter “ran a close winner, primarily because of its excellent content. It kept me interested from cover to cover. There was a nice, newsy style throughout, with good signposting, plenty of photographs, and well written.”

What a great accolade fulfilling the aspiration of George Shiells as set out in the first issue in May 1982. The newsletter continued for another 19 years after winning that award doing just that.

In the penultimate issue of the newsletter (issue 70, autumn 2014), Lyn Shiells warned that that it might be the last. She wrote that with many accessing local information online the newsletter was under threat. She also wrote about how the newsletter’s team had been impacted by the death of colleagues, while others wanted to retire from their roles.

And she explained that it had become harder to raise money from local businesses who were also struggling economically as was the newsletter with rising production and printing costs.

In order to survive, she wrote, the newsletter needed to recruit a new team of editors, distributors and advertising volunteers.

George Shiells, the motivating force behind the newsletter, passed away on 15 February 2007, aged 78. Click on the image for a larger version.   

A tribute to George Shiells appeared in the spring 2007 issue
A tribute to George Shiells appeared in the spring 2007 issue

After his death, the newsletter reported (issue 55 spring 2007) that:
“George’s wishes were for the newsletter to continue and his wife, Mrs Lyn Shiells, has endeavoured to carry out his wishes for this issue of the newsletter, but it is necessary that a replacement is found to carry on George’s good work.”
No such replacement was found. Although Lyn managed without him for a further eight years, it became harder for her to do so without his support. Click on the image for a larger version.   

The last Chancellor’s Community Newsletter, spring 2015
The last Chancellor’s Community Newsletter, spring 2015

In the next and final issue of the newsletter (issue 71 spring 2015) Lyn wrote:
“In autumn last year we hinted that it may have to close and I now have to report that this will sadly be the final issue”.

“The final consideration is the wonderful team of people who have helped to keep the newsletter running on a totally voluntary basis, giving up a considerable amount of their time.

“Many of the team are now past retirement age and deserve a well-earned rest. Some are sadly no longer with us. Our cry for help in recent issues led to a few offers of support but not enough to replace the team.”
This achievement was summed up by an article published in the same final edition, written by Paul Wolstencroft.
“It was back in the summer of 1983 when George Shiells first showed me an eight-page copy of Chancellor’s Community Newsletter. He explained that he thought it had the potential to grow and wondered if I’d like to ‘volunteer’ to piece it together since the editor was moving away from the area.

“Having survived a task equivalent to doing a 1000-piece jigsaw in the dark, my first thought was that the newsletter would probably not survive. It had been born to support the campaign to save Chancellor’s from closure and surely that amount of local interest could not be maintained.

“What I’d not factored in was George’s great organisational skills and his ability to motivate people to contribute. Plus of course the tireless work of Lyn Shiells who coordinated everything and deserves our special thanks for keeping the whole thing going.

“Over the next few years, the interest was not only maintained but actually increased. By 1989 there was a small team of editorial supporters and more advertisers, resulting in the Newsletter increasing in size to thirty two pages.

“By 1996, the Newsletter had grown in size to forty pages but it was still a ‘quart into a pint pot’ with new advertisers and contributors appearing in each issue. In 2002, production switched to full-colour and my scalpel and glue had finally been replaced by desktop publishing on a computer.

“Despite having a frantic few weeks a couple of times each year I really miss the task of completing the Chancellor’s jigsaw and I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the small army of people who’ve all worked wonders to collect and edit the copy and get it to me.

“Over the past thirty years I’ve come to understand the sense of community that makes the area a great place to live and work. That’s something which the closure of the Newsletter will not change and no doubt Social Media and the Internet will continue to spread the word.”
The masthead in the first 44 issues of the newsletter, from 1982 to 2001, showed no apostrophe in the name “Chancellors” in the title. It’s not known whether this was intentional or an error. It could be a consequence of the literal “cut and paste” method of page setting in the early years. What is clear is that after 20 years of publication, with the move to desktop publishing for the last 27 issues from 2002 to 2016, the apostrophe was in the title. This coincided with the move to colour printing.

After reviewing 71 issues it is clear what a precious asset to the local community the newsletter was, and still is. And that is why it’s important to preserve some of the best of the newsletter for future generations to enjoy.

The North Mymms History Project which is also run by a volunteer team, has, with the full support of Lyn Shiells, gone through all the back issues of the newsletter and picked out memorable or interesting articles which have now been published online.

Articles that up until now were only accessible through hard copies are now available for all to read in digital form. So, despite the nostalgia at the loss of the newsletter, its legacy will live on as part of the North Mymms History Project.

Lilian Caras January 2021

Quick facts

  • Chancellor’s Community Newsletter was published for 34 years from May 1982 to Spring 2015
  • There were 71 Issues, 44 in black & white format from 1982 to 2001, 27 in colour from 2002 to 2015
  • Three editions a year for four years - 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986
  • Two editions a year for 30 years – 1983 then 1987 to 2015
  • Number of pages: four in the first edition in May 1982, 32 at its 10th anniversary in 1992, 40 pages on average from 1996 until its final edition in 2015
  • Print run: 3,500 in May 1982, 6,000 by the time of its 10th anniversary in 1992. It continued at an average of 6,000 for 17 years, then 5,000 for its last seven years (2009 – 2015)
  • Average print run over 30 years: 5,419
  • Total number of Newsletter produced: 384,750

Chancellor's Community Newsletter teams

Editorial team

Joint editors November 1998 to spring 2015

Chancellor’s School staff

Distribution managers

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