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September 21, 2018

Ex Local World group digital editor who set up website for Brit expats in Kenya ‘as a hobby’ says it has become ‘a bit of a beast’

By Charlotte Tobitt

A former Local World group digital editor has found unexpected success with a news website for Brit and Irish expats in Kenya he set up as a hobby, doubling it in size each year despite having no advertising budget.

Andrew Watt set up Brits in Kenya in 2015 as a way of learning more about his Kenyan wife’s country of origin and because he missed writing in his job, but says the website has helped build a community.

At the time he led digital strategy in the central and east region for Local World, with titles including Beds on Sunday, Luton on Sunday, Cambridge News and Northants Herald and Post.

He left the company in 2016 amid restructuring shortly after it was bought by Trinity Mirror (now Reach), and now works in social media and community engagement.

Despite only being run in Watt’s spare time with an average of four stories published a day including some user generated content and op-eds, the website has become “a bit of a beast”, he told Press Gazette.

“It seems to have developed a life of its own from what was initially a hobby,” he added.

It now gets between 5,000 and 9,000 monthly visitors and 10,000 to 14,000 monthly page views, and has just entered the top 10,000 websites in Kenya after being added to Google News.

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Watt hopes to enable advertising on the site in the next two months after receiving more and more requests, despite complications over processing payments as he is not a Kenyan citizen.

Watt, who has also worked for the Guardian, Telegraph and Press Association, said: “I regularly travel to Kenya where I have family and it was on one of my trips that I began looking into the British population living and working in Kenya.

“It turns out there are around 40,000 Brits living there and I decided to launch a website to help me learn more about the country and its culture as well as the impact British citizens have.”

He added: “The response from the Brits community and native Kenyans has been universally positive and now when I visit the country I have a packed schedule.”

Watt, who is based near Milton Keynes, said running a website about a country halfway across the world had not proved a problem: “Even if I was in the country I would find it very difficult to get out to some of these remote regions and cover the stories.

“It’s massively bigger than the UK in size of area. But anytime we’re out there we try and experience different things so I can write about them, things that would be of interest to the community who read it.”

As well as a presence on Facebook and Twitter the website has spawned a Facebook social group and a Telegram group which is used to alert expats about requests for help and any issues they need to be aware of such as travel advisory changes and traffic incidents.

Frequent topics include the the British Army Training Unit Kenya, Kenyan football team Gor Mahia which is run by British manager Dylan Kerr, British businesses like De La Rue which prints Kenyan currency, and work undertaken by charities, the High Commission and the Department for International Development.

The website has published op-eds from the likes of MP Kate Hoey about the impact Brexit will have on Kenya, and the UK High Commissioner.

Recent stories have included an appeal by friends of a British charity founder who died in Kenya, leaving her friends with large medical and funeral bills.

After seeing the story on the website, a generous individual got in touch and cleared both amounts in recognition of the work she had done for disadvantaged children in Kenya.

“I think this a great example of the power for good the local/hyperlocal press can be,” Watt said.

He added: “Another recent story which has performed very well is this account from a former Kenyan waiter who used his wages from working on Jersey to kick start the development of a school, church and health centre in his home village. I think it’s a nice example of user generated content.”

The website also covered Theresa May’s recent visit to Kenya, going beyond the UK national headlines to tell the story of the High Commissioner “smoothing the way” by engaging with businesses and politicians in advance of her arrival.

Picture: Andrew Watt

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