AFTER two years in the hotseat editing the historic Basingstoke Gazette, this is my final paper as newspaper editor before I embark on a new adventure.

I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to you for supporting The Gazette by picking up the paper each week and for following us online.

It was only in 2019 that I first stepped into the old office in Pelton Road and stepped back into local journalism after a stint working for The Daily Mail online and The Daily Telegraph.

Having started my career as a trainee reporter on the Tiverton Gazette in Devon, I couldn’t wait to get back in regional news.

The adrenaline of working on the biggest national stories of the day is an unforgettable experience but for me, nothing beats the satisfaction of making a difference to someone’s life or making history through the power of local reporting.

And it has been a true privilege to use this platform over the past two years to do just that.

The bizarre plight of Basingstoke Town Community Football Club piqued my interest from that first day at The Gazette where club figures came in to let us know they were about to be evicted from The Camrose.

My first thought was, how has this been allowed to happen? And slowly over the next six months, as they were sent away to play in Winchester, pieces of the jigsaw puzzle came together.

As regular readers will know, the club is now back in Basingstoke - thanks in part to this newspaper’s highly-publicised campaign - and is playing at Winklebury. We campaigned hard to see planning applications to develop the Camrose thrown out last September and were shortlisted for a British Journalism Award for our investigation. But the fight isn’t over yet. A question mark remains over the Camrose’s future. However, be reassured to know that in the hands of our first-class reporting team in Basingstoke, headed by our fantastic chief reporter Ryan Evans, this story isn’t going away anytime soon - for the council or the landowner.

One of my proudest achievements at The Gazette has been transforming the newsroom culture, building a diverse and vibrant team, and overseeing record-breaking growth online. I introduced a digital-first strategy in 2019 with an ambition to make The Gazette the number-one website for residents to get their local news.

Our figures grew immediately from 430,000 page views a month to 1.9million. Web traffic continued to soar throughout 2020 with The Gazette seeing the highest year-on-year growth out of our newspaper group’s fleet of 168 titles.

The success has been down to the team of passionate reporters who work around the clock to bring residents live, factual information about what is going on in their area. They never shy away from asking the questions that matter or getting to the crux of the matter. At a time of crisis, the people of Basingstoke turned to The Gazette in unprecedented numbers for news they could trust.

Take the Rooksdown counter-terror raids last week, for example. Facebook was sent into overdrive when police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the area. It was our reporters who kept residents up-to-date and reassured. And subsequently, this newspaper that revealed the raid had been sparked by a councillor’s son who had handed over an antique gun to police. This story is a good example of why we can’t rely on the authorities alone to tell us the truth. Since the man was arrested, the police have not provided an update to the public. Without our reporter in court, the public would be none the wiser.

But sometimes reporting can be hard. At the start of the pandemic, I spoke to a whistleblower at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital. They had to explain to me what PPE meant - that’s how early things were.

The whistleblower was terrified for their life and said there was barely any PPE behind the scenes. We were put under immense pressure from NHS to pull the story including me taking a phone call from a shouting press officer while I was driving along the motorway at 70mph. Needless to say, we didn’t crumble and stood by our source. And good job too. The hospital later admitted it did have a shortage. It was undoubtedly down to the bravery of the whistleblower and bad publicity that forced them to get their act together.

It has been an honour to serve as the first female editor in The Gazette’s history. I would like to say thank you to my wonderful colleagues for their support. I will remain a Basingstoke resident and a Basingstoke reader. Please join me in continuing to support this excellent newspaper into its new era.

Follow me and future adventures on Twitter @journokatie.