Meet Philip, founder of Leytonstone Life

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Ever wanted to start a hit Facebook group? You could do worse than take tips from this local bloke

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Philip
‘I’ve made some stupidly clumsy posts myself which have (deservedly) drawn some flak.’ Philip Herlihy and friend Seamus. Photo: PH
Need an emergency plumber? Just moved to the area? Or fancy a gander at what Waltham Forest looked like back in the day? You can find it all on the Leytonstone Life Facebook page. We chatted to founder Philip Herlihy about the group he started just two years ago.

How long have you lived in the area?
I moved to Walthamstow in 1988. We had a dog called Seamus (pictured), and I got into the habit of looking for new open spaces to walk him. Occasionally I’d look for an unfamiliar patch of green on a map – that’s how I found Bush Wood in 2012.

What do you do for a living?
I run a small IT business from home.

When and why did you start Leytonstone life?
I started Leytonstone Life in February 2014. I’d been thrown out of another Leytonstone group for daring to question (gently and civilly) the admin’s use of her privilege. I started wondering what a fair group would look like.

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What happened next and how quickly did the membership grow?
Having drafted the critical constitution, I launched the group at 9pm on the way out to the pub. When I checked via my phone at 10.30pm, there were 18 members (thrilled!). By midnight there were 100. It’s grown steadily ever since.

How has the group changed since the beginning?
As happens with a lot of groups, the tone has changed a bit over time. In the early days everyone shared a common wish to create a very positive and warm outlook, celebrating Leytonstone and the people in it. Inevitably, as numbers grew some discordant voices started to make themselves heard. Actually, that’s only healthy.

Is it different to how you thought it would be?
It’s not really so much different these days from what I’d hoped for. There was a period when negative voices seemed to dominate, but it’s settled down to be a convivial friendly forum full of local information and good humour – with an occasional edge to keep things interesting.

What does your role as admin of Leytonstone Life involve?
There’s certainly no manual. Mostly we check the occasional post to see if it adheres to the rules and we occasionally decline a request to join if a profile doesn’t look right. In the early stages there was a lot of discussion – even argument – about what principles to adopt, but I believe now there’s a good consensus over both the rules and way we apply them. All the admins are fastidious about being fair and consistent.

Philip with long term companion at Larkswood. Photo: Philip
‘In the early days everyone shared a common wish to create a very positive and warm outlook.’ Photo: PH
Has it always been a closed group and, if so, why’s that?
It’s always been closed (but not secret, which is the only other option for a group of our size). We felt that it was appropriate to sign up before seeing other members’ posts. I don’t see that changing now. I think it’s running really well as it is, and I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to meddle with it.

How does someone become a member of Leytonstone Life?
Simply visit the page, and click the join button. Before long an admin will give your profile a very quick peek and in 98% of cases you’ll be approved. We’ve learned to spot spammers and other ‘exploiters’. We expect to see some hint of a genuine connection with Leytonstone.

What’s been your favourite discovery to date from Leytonstone Life posts?
That Leytonstone is simply full of warm, lively, interesting, creative, funny and caring people.

What’s been the most controversial post ever on Leytonstone Life?
Ever? Oh Lord. I’ve made some stupidly clumsy posts myself which have (deservedly) drawn some flak. Generally, the most heated threads have been ones where people have rushed to join what I think of an as ‘indignation committee’, but I think a gentler and calmer culture has established itself, and rows are rarer and less intense these days.

Which type of posts are your favourite and why?
Any sort of irreverent mischief. But I learn something about the area, its people, and what’s going on every day.

You don’t allow adverts, although recommendations and posts about events are OK. Why is that?
Actually I would like to see a way in which local traders can make themselves known, but it’s clear from other groups that this can quickly overwhelm other content. Admins agreed a while back to allow notices of bona-fide events, and also vacancies for accommodation and jobs. These haven’t turned out to be excessive, and the criteria are clear enough so that we can remain scrupulously consistent. The same goes for bona-fide recommendations.

Tell us about the admin team, what do they have to do?
There are currently four of us – decent, thoughtful, conscientious people who work together surprisingly hard to maintain fairness and free speech, and thrash out how to handle the inevitable grey areas. I’m lucky to have such colleagues.

A favourite thing:   view from St John's church. Photo:  Ian Vickers / St John's Church
A favourite thing: view from St John’s church. Photo: Ian Vickers / St John’s Church
How important is it for a group like this that there are rules (in the case of Leytonstone Life, a constitution)?
Absolutely vital. Most Facebook groups seem to be run by individuals who may have started out with the best of intentions, but can be pushed by the pressures that the role can involve into acting quite dictatorially. I’d sought from the outset to establish ‘rule by law’, and the constitution crucially limits what admins can do just as much as it limits members.

There have been a couple of articles shared in the group recently about the gentrification of Leytonstone. How do you feel about it?
Big subject. I’m probably a ‘gent’ myself. But I really grieve over the inequality and hardship directly caused by soaring speculative house prices.

Are there any other local issues close to your heart?
I love Waltham Forest. I’m Chair of our Safer Neighbourhood Board, and I want to do what I can to contribute to a sense of community and ‘fellowship’ – to quote the Man. I think Mini-Holland, which I’d always actively supported, is taken to damaging extremes in other parts of Waltham Forest (profanity alert).

Tell about about your favourite places in Leytonstone.
Bush Wood: I can stand on my front step at night and hear owls hooting. I also love the view from the top of St Johns’ tower, and What’s Cookin’ at the Ex-Servicemen’s club. How much space do we have?

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Join Leytonstone Life Facebook Page here
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  • Claire Perry

    I love this. I run a teeny (by comparison) E20 group that covers all sorts in Stratford and East. Rarely any drama (unlike the other group in the area I quit well over a year ago) and I just do it because I know it’s useful to people (they tell me) based on me being nosey and wanting to find out about things happen where/near I live so I share it.

  • Marian Bulford

    I love the Leytonstoner. My son lives there with my lovely Grand children whilst I live here, in Quebec, Canada so this gives me an idea of what is new in Leytonstone and what to try next time I am over ‘ome! ) I am definitely going to the Wild Goose Bakery!