The Hanover Community Notice Board (HCNB) is embedded into Brighton culture. For the 14,700 members of this uniquely crackers Facebook group, it offers a peek behind the curtains of a Hanover community that’s one of the most socially diverse in the city. From heated debates about feminism to student noise complaints to the perpetual threads about parking permits and defecating dogs, it’s a wonderland of tubthumping liberalism and passive aggressive bickering.
Behind all this, though, it serves a key purpose as community fulcrum. Whether users are looking for an electrician, trying to sell a sofa, or drumming up support for a homeless person in need, it's helped thousands of people connect with someone that can aid them. It was founded over four years ago by Charlotte Bray and she – aided by a team of admins – keeps everything in check and ensures HCNB remains a tolerant group with a purpose.
We called Charlotte to chat insane notifications, Suki the shark and provocative members.
Hey Charlotte! First thing first: how many hours a day do you reckon you spend looking after the Hanover board?
I would say three hours on average. If you asked my husband, he’d definitely say I have a problem!
That's over 1000 hours a year! So how much does the board actually get used?
In the last 28 days we’ve had 74,600 posts, comments and reactions.
Woah. Your notifications must be insane.
I probably get 100-150 a day but I switched off notifications six month ago! So I have to go into Facebook and open it. I also moved it to the third page of my phone so I’m a bit more mindful. I’m currently halfway through a book called How To Break Up With Your Phone: make of that what you will!
When you set the group up, did you mean to create something this size?
Ha. Not al all. I set it up when I first moved to Brighton and invited 25 local people. These were the days before WhatsApp and I thought it would be useful to have a way to ask for plumber recommendations, or someone to lay tiles. Within three weeks there was about 100 people on it and within a year it was ridiculous. I was quite active on it at first but now it’s become its own creature and we just moderate it.
Do you feel a responsibility for what happens on there?
I do, yeah. But over the last year the group has got very good at self-policing.
Why do you think it has grown the way it has?
I think it’s to do with the mix; there are so many types of people and its socially and economically diverse. There’s the students, then the DFLs [Down From Londoners], the born and bred-ers. There’s also a lot of people in Hanover that are struggling from day to day, or in social isolation, or experiencing physical struggles in general. Sometimes this produces high levels of conflict but it also produces high levels of tolerance.
Do you have any favourite threads?
Ask any long-time users and they’ll know about Suki the shark.That spat went on for days but it was all humour and that’s the board at its best. I also love the posts with positive outcomes. A few months ago a women posted that she was alone and struggling and there was a flood of reactions: people directing her to services, offering to go for coffee or come and sit with her. I was just crying all the way through. Social media gets a bad press for a lot of reasons but I like to think our board can be a force for good. I don’t think i’d carry on if I didn’t.
What are you thinking and doing when threads kick off, like the debate about the price of wine at The Greys last year?
It can be alarming, hysterical and entertaining. I have a family, a job and a life outside the Hanover board – believe it or not – and you can come into it a bit late. By which time it’s taken off and you think, ‘Shit, what am i going to do?’ It develops into a mini hysteria, part of which is fueled by humour. Part it is a culture of people taking things very personally.
You have some infamously provocative members who shall remain nameless. Do they wind you up?
Well there's one particular firebrand who loves to stir the pot. He’s provocative but I think he’s slightly misunderstood. I've met him and he is alright. He’s really alright but he can’t help himself. There's a couple like that and I reckon they'll read this and know exactly who they are!
Do you ever worry about arguments or bickering moving from online to IRL?
It doesn’t particularly worry me. You do get 2am aggro sometimes and you just think, ‘Put your phone down and go to bed, mate’.
Finally… why does everyone hate the cereal cafe?
Well, if you read that thread I actually don’t think most people do. Obviously, the cereal cafe in Shoreditch was made a scapegoat for gentrification but I don’t think that’s what the majority of posters on the Hanover board think. I read it more as a massive collective eye-roll. I mean, it’s a bit silly to charge £3.80 for a bowl of cereal but it’s a independent, quirky business and most people would rather that than another Starbuck’s or Costa.