The people who built The Mill

An editor's note to mark our birthday

Dear Millers — yesterday we celebrated The Mill’s 1st birthday. It was this weekend a year ago that I sent out the first Mill newsletter when there were only 21 people on the mailing list. Today’s edition goes out to 12,809 Millers and caps a wonderful first year.

The Mill has gone from an eccentric idea in my head (if you’re one of the people I called up before the launch to ask if you thought it was a good idea, please shout) to a distinctive news organisation that is publishing a new kind of local journalism and (I hope) bringing some joy and interesting information into people’s lives during a tough time.

It’s been lovely to see how fast word about The Mill has spread, not just in Greater Manchester but farther afield too. We’ve had recognition from leading journalists in the UK and the US and this week we received some backing to work with journalists in Sheffield and Liverpool to run Mill-style newsletters too.

But I wanted to focus this birthday newsletter on the people who have helped to make The Mill a success and to highlight some of their best stories. I couldn't have imagined when I started this venture how many talented, energetic and kind-hearted people would come out of the woodwork and want to be part of it, so today’s email is about them. I hope some of these stories are new to you and this email will give you some great reading to fill your Sunday afternoon.

One of the first Manchester-based journalists who got in touch was Andrea Sandor, and she has been a great contributor to The Mill ever since. Her story — working with the journalist Harvey Kong in Hong Kong — about how Manchester markets its property to buyers in Asia was a fascinating piece of reporting. Andrea also wrote our long read about the rancorous “low traffic neighbourhood” initiative in Levenshulme and did some follow-up reporting (members-only) about the future of such schemes across Greater Manchester.

Another very early contributor was Mollie Simpson, who graduates from university next week. I loved her piece about life inside MMU’s locked-down dorms, and her in-depth profile of the students who took on the University of Manchester with a rent strike, which was based on weeks of reporting. A few weeks ago, Mollie wrote a moving feature (members-only) about a little-known Manchester bookseller during the Industrial Revolution, whose writing has now been recovered through the painstaking and loving work of two staff at Chetham’s Library.

David Barnett’s first piece for The Mill is (in my humble opinion) one of the best accounts of what has happened to local journalism in the past decade or two — at turns funny, damning and elegiac. He has since written some of our most popular stories, including his thrilling account of a rescue on Bleaklow Moor, his piece about (members-only) the North West history of AstraZeneca, his beautiful interview with Tony Husband (members-only), and his fabulous weekend read about the life and death of Wigan Casino.

That Wigan Casino feature crops up a lot when people are telling me how they found out about The Mill, as does Sophie Atkinson’s strange and beautiful long read about Burnage Garden Village. When I first spoke to Sophie she was living in Germany and her most recent stories were for the New York Times and the Washington Post, so I wondered why she was pitching ideas to our tiny newsletter. But since then she’s become a great friend of The Mill and wrote a great interview with the author Jeff Noon recently.

Talking of friends of The Mill, Nicholas Booth (he’s the one who looks like he’s singing in that photo above from our birthday meeting/drinks yesterday) has been brilliantly supportive right from when we first spoke last September. Nick used to be a science correspondent on the Observer, and we’ve benefited from his ideas, humour and encouragement ever since. He’s also taken time out of his book-writing schedule to pen two Mill stories: a great feature about how efforts to map the Moon were led from Manchester (members-only) and a thrilling piece about the Christmas Blitz in 1944.

The baseball-capped man sitting closest to the camera in that picture is Tom Taylor, who has been a trainee with us since January and did a lot of our local election reporting. He also broke the story about vaccine queue jumping in Rochdale, wrote a great oral history of the anarchist-weirdo phase of Hulme Crescents (members-only) and reported a lovely piece about how some of the traders on a locked-down high street are dealing with the pandemic.

And then of course there is Dani, who first emailed me in August last year asking to do the placement for her journalism course with The Mill and became our first-ever full-time staff member in March. Dani has written a lot of my favourite Mill stories, including an epic long read about a toad from Panama, a beautiful series of interviews with female skaters, a very sad piece about the wrongly accused postmistress of Dukinfield (members-only), an elegant feature about the Manchester painter Annie Swynnerton (members-only) and a sweeping history of the Hotspur Press building.

Dani also has the unenviable task of editing my own stories, usually under extreme time pressure because I send them to her hours later than promised. I think my favourite piece so far was this one about how two teenagers have coped with the pandemic, closely followed by my interview with the man who lives an isolated life on a council estate in North Manchester. Back in the period last summer before all these lovely people came along and The Mill was just me sitting in my bedroom writing, I published a feature about the death of Tony Wilson and the story of James Watkins, an escaped slave who ended up in Bolton.

There are at least a dozen more freelance writers who have contributed great journalism in our first year who I could mention here, and others who have helped us out by editing stories (including my old neighbour Ahisha Ghafoor, who used to sub-edit all our stories during the me-in-my-bedroom phase). They know who they are, and we’re thankful for their help, as we are to the many members who have sent us ideas and given us the funding to build The Mill to this point.

If you haven’t joined us as a member yet and you fancy supporting our work and getting our journalism in your inbox five days a week, please hit the button below. Here's to another fruitful year ahead.