The legacy of a great person can often be measured by the impact they leave behind, and in the case of Bill Carruthers, the founder of the Chew Valley Gazette newspaper, his impact was profound. As we remember and pay tribute to this extraordinary individual, we celebrate a life that was dedicated to community, journalism, and the enduring power of local news.
Bill Carruthers was not just a newspaper founder; he was a businessman-turned-journalist who believed in the power of community-driven storytelling.
He envisioned change and a voice for the smaller businesses in the Chew Valley region. His passion for journalism and the local community was evident in the hard work and hours he put into the Chew Valley Gazette, originally named the Chew Valley Digest, which he started in 1984. As a businessman himself, Bill took notice of the fact that the small businesses in the smaller towns and villages outside of Bristol weren’t getting a voice in the Evening Post (now rebranded as the Bristol Post), which covered mainly stories and ventures from the city.
When the paper was in its beginning, the primary areas for distribution were along Bristol’s Wells Road through A37 and the A38 towards Winscombe. All of the areas between these almost-parallel main roads were also covered in the publication, such as Chew Magna, Chew Stoke, Compton Martin and Winford. The newspaper proved popular with local businesses, particularly the local estate agents, who found that the Gazette was a good resource for them to spread the word about their property portfolios.
Originally from Leeds, Bill’s great sense of community spirit was founded and nurtured there. Leeds City Council had sports facilities, gym facilities and youth clubs long before the West Country had made them widely accessible to the public, according to his wife Veronica, who told the Gazette of Bill’s life.
Veronica said, “Leeds set him up and convinced him, like so many others I know from that area through Bill, that he could go and get what he wanted, thanks to the City Council supporting people by providing fair access to facilities and housing and the likes, long before here in Bristol”.
Proving his determination and willingness to succeed, Bill was in one of the first-ever groups to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, travelling to the Lake District to camp out in the middle of winter.
One of the places Bill lived when he relocated down South, shortly before starting the newspaper in 1984, was East Harptree, where he founded the East Harptree Village Club. From this organisation, he could see the benefit that a local paper could bring to the area. He realised that, if his Village Club needed to put information out to the wider community about the results of their recent Skittles match, then so would other clubs in the likes of Chew Stoke and beyond.
Bill was keen to include local interest stories in the paper as much as local news and road closures. He was described by his wife Veronica as a “curious mind” - he would go and find out local stories that he heard about through various connections to community groups and businesses.
In the first edition of the Chew Valley Gazette, or Digest as it were then, there were eight pages with around ten thousand copies in circulation. The idea Bill had was to distribute around a thousand copies in each village. In the earlier days of the publication, Bill, along with the help of wife Veronica, would distribute the papers themselves to the village. They even delivered door-to-door in some areas, as told by Veronica, who remembers walking up Pensford Hill on many occasions to complete the job, becoming less fond of the journey as the paper grew in time from eight pages to twelve, sixteen and eventually to twenty-four, making the bundles heavier with the paper’s growing popularity.
Alongside distribution, Bill had to wear many hats in the early days to make sure that the advertisers, which helped fund the continuation of the paper, were able to include their information, as well as having to go out and gather news content.
The determination behind his strive for success were his two sons, for whom he had full responsibility. Bill wanted to prove that, as well as running a successful business, he could be there for his boys as they needed him at the end of the school day and so on. This determination and the long hours put into the publication payed off, as by the end of the first year of being up and running, Bill had upped the number of pages from eight to twenty.
Bill carried on at the helm of The Gazette for twenty five years after its inception, when he sold the paper on and retired.
Bill lived in the Chew Valley with his wife Veronica until he passed away on July 31st 2023, with asbestosis related illness aged 82 years.
Bill contracted asbestosis; a lung condition that is caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibers in the air, during his time up North.
In his memory, let us continue to celebrate the values Bill held – community, journalism, and the enduring power of local news – and strive to keep his vision alive in the Chew Valley Gazette and in the heart of our community.