Mike Gyi

May 19, 2021

Town Spot: The Story So Far...

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Town Spot is my "localtech" dream to connect people with where they live and tackle loneliness.

Simply put, it's a super digestible WhatsApp message sent every Sunday with local listings and happenings, currently covering Kentish Town in London (pop. ~13,000).

I started Town Spot to receive feedback like this:

"I have felt more connected through lockdown and have taken action as a result of the content...I donated food and money to Castlehaven Community Centre - I signed up to write to some Age UK Camden residents and I sent the Clean Break Theatre Company story and vacancy to someone I know who could give them lots of help and who would love it too" —Jenny, received August 2020

Here's a story about how I started Town Spot and my vision for a connected future, away from the internet. 


I grew up in Thornton-Cleveleys, a seaside town in northern England. On the high street, all you could see was a sea of grey hair. It was a popular retirement town and should've been a paradise for old people. However, it wasn't, something was wrong.


Retired people, including my grandma, generally stayed in their houses or floated around the streets with nothing to do. I tried my best to help find her things to do or ways to meet people and nothing worked. Either the information was hard to find or it didn't exist. It was way too hard, there was no obvious help or signposting.

My grandparents met at their local church, it was the central pillar of their community. Events were held there, local information was available there, people fell in love and got married there. However, with religion in decline, it appears nothing has replaced the role of the neighbourhood facilitator. 

I saw this as a huge problem across all age groups, a gaping hole in society, especially as it's been proven that communities contribute to longer lives. At the time, I didn't know how to help or have the skills to, so I just got on with my life and hoped local government would become the neighbourhood facilitator we all needed.

El Camino de Santiago

This problem sat with me for around 4-years and resurfaced again when walking the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2018. After 20-something days and 500-something kilometres, I met a 70-something Danish man called Sven.

He was on his 7th Camino (that's roughly 3,480 miles walked!). We grabbed ice cream with another great Dane and he explained how his first Camino had lifted him from severe depression. He went on to reveal that resided in a co-living arrangement in Denmark, with people aged 25-80 years old. There was always someone there so he never felt alone.


Why was my grandma so isolated when Sven was in a perfect communal living setup? How is that fair?

I felt at a loss trying to work this out. Furthermore, in England, it seems we normalise the isolation of older people. Why had no tech companies fixed this real-world obvious human problem before?

What if I could create something that could spark the creation of a new "localtech" industry and connect people to where they live, easing loneliness of all age groups? 

Existing Solutions

Nextdoor.com and Facebook.com (neighbourhood groups) are examples of an attempt to bridge this disconnect. However, these groups seem to centre on LOST CATS, parking complaints, or birds stuck in shop windows. To me, they feel like virtual neighbourhoods suspended in digital space, disconnected from the bricks and mortar around us. 

In some cases, we're now more likely to connect through a web browser to our neighbourhoods than by stepping outside our front doors. That's mad.

I wanted to provide an alternative so people could lead better lives. I wanted to use technology to facilitate a real-world connection with where people live. I dreamt of creating a "localtech" industry.

It was time for some research as I had no clue where to start!

Initial Research

In the UK, we have these places called 'Community Centres' and not many people know what they're for.

Curious about how they could help me on my quest, and my head full of questions, I walked 5 minutes to my local centre in Kentish Town to interview the staff.

A startled face met me as it turns out I'd already met the centre manager, Sarah Hoyle, on the Camino de Santiago. A curious coincidence...?


After chatting with her I decided to become a Trustee to learn more and make an impact where I lived.

I served on their trustee board for 18 months and it was a rich experience. I learnt a ton about how local organisations functioned (the good and the bad) and met some inspiring characters.

A definite highlight was a quiz night fundraiser we held for our Summer School. It was like something out of Phoenix Nights—all kinds of comedy-of-errors wonderful.


Starting Up

During my time at the community centre, I realised how many great things were happening in Kentish Town that I had no idea about, right on my doorstep. 

I wondered whether a simple neighbourhood newsletter would help surface this information. My initital plan was to go down my street, knock on people's doors and ask them for their email addresses. Easy right? 

*Knock knock* "Hi, I'm Mike, errr can I have your email address?"

I didn't do that, because, well, it would've been weird. So I kept thinking, a second thought came: 

"What about WhatsApp instead of email?"

This worked very well. In September 2019 I started a read-only WhatsApp group as an experiment and it boomed to over 280 people in 3-4 months! 

Every Sunday, pre-pandemic, I would send weekly Kentish Town event listings to the WhatsApp group.


Here's some early feedback I received: 

"It's already making me aware of much more stuff going on in the neighbourhood, and making it feel more like a community" —Duncan, November 2020

Something was happening. I even attended a local talk where a woman behind was there because of the event listings. The weekly message was connecting people to where they lived, great :D

Pandemic Pivot

When the UK lockdown hit in April 2020 the local events of course stopped. So I decided to pivot the service to include positive news, volunteering opportunities, local businesses promotion, and where to get help.

Here's a snippet of what that expanded message now looks like.


Currently, each week,  the amazing Nina, a freelance content writer, and I look at 500+ sources of information (Twitter, Instagram, links sent to us etc.) and we work together to filter down to create the WhatsApp message.

Here's some feedback we've received since the change: 

"It's great to see you drumming up support for all manner of local businesses and community groups through this newsletter. We try to use as many as we can." — Carlton, joined January 2020 

"I’ve really enjoyed reading them every Sunday, and have usually found something useful each time (including just going back to it today so I could find your link to donate to the Castlehaven food bank)."—Georgia, joined April 2020

Finding Funds

Things were going well, I realised that it's really hard to make ends meet in the "local" space and around 8 hours is put into running Town Spot each week. If I wanted this to grow sustainably and create real change then I needed to find some consistent funding.

I'd seen that most local organisations made revenue by showing you ads paid for by local businesses. However, I wanted to create an advertisement-free space, support local businesses for free, and prove that it's possible to maintain a healthy balance sheet. 

This long-shot vision would hopefully show people that the "localtech" industry is worth investing in, equalling happier people and more social problems solved by tech companies.

So, in June 2020,  I decided to try out a subscription model to see how many people actually valued the service because I also had a suspicion that most people did not read or use the message. This was a painful process, but in the end, from an initial 280 people, 44 became paid members and 16 became free members. It worked!

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There was now a glimmer of hope to build from. In the 12 months since the membership has grown to 60 paid members and 21 free members. Not great, but not awful considering I've done most of this in my spare time :D

Here's a screenshot of our current membership model, or see the real thing here.

The most important thing to note here is it's free for people who can't afford it and also people who are retired!


Future Vision Quest

Plot twist: in March 2020, after 2 great years in Kentish Town and 8 years in London, I moved to Barcelona ☀️ to experience life outside the UK for the first time. Members who I've told have reacted in a positive way and have thanked me for continuing the service. So I wanted to mention this here to get the word out :)

Moving forward (from Barcelona), I've decided to dedicate more time on Town Spot to grow it in Kentish Town and prove it makes a social impact. 

The early signs are promising:

"Thissss is WONDERFUL! Really enjoying this community newsletter, really helping me to feel connected 💖" — Sophia, joined October 2020

"Thank you!!! I find the newsletters super interesting, good way to find new spots even after a couple of years here!"—Hanna, joined March 2021

The next hurdle is to reach as many people as I can in Kentish Town. This means running hyperlocal marketing exercises with physical things like...TOTE BAGS.

Recently, as an experiment, I designed a tote bag with a list of local businesses on the back. The concept was to imagine Kentish Town as an interconnected shopping centre with a directory of shops on the back of the bag for people to discover and support local businesses. 


I loved the whole process, made easier by the printing legends at Subtopia. Members were invited to pick them up for free from a local coffee shop and the bags proved to be an instant hit:

“I’ve been stopped a couple of times in the street and also had people in shops ask me about the bags, with one girl saying she had the bag too!” — Matteo, joined May 2020

After a slow start to Town Spot, I'm excited about the long journey ahead and determined to make this work in some shape or form. 

If successful in Kentish Town, I'll look to create new Town Spots in other parts of London and beyond to help more people discover the great things happening right on their doorstep. Also, more growth will mean more funds available to help do more things to ease loneliness amongst older people. That's the long term goal.

Imagine if every neighbourhood in the world had a service like this to connect people with where they live and tackle loneliness?

That would be amazing. 

Thanks for reading! 😁



Let me know what you think! Hit reply to this email, I read every reply :)

More importantly, any honest advice to improve this article is gold dust for me so please tell me if you have any as I plan to share more widely soon

About Mike Gyi

UX/Product, ex-architecture, ex-TW, community addict, building https://www.townspot.uk