The Villager magazines are locally published community magazines that share and showcase the history of communities and businesses with readers. Villager Publications is locally owned and operated by Barb Botten.
Barb Botten grew up in Byron Ontario. She has a degree in Marketing and Radio. Before beginning Villager Publications, Barb worked as a marketer for various large companies. Although she worked primarily with forms of digital media, Barb explains that, for her, publishing print magazines “ is just another form of communication”.
Villager Publications employs 3 graphic designers and a number of freelance writers. Barb’s youngest son is learning various aspects of the business and has taken on a role as a graphic designer for the Villager.
How did this vision all begin?
Villager Publications began in 2015: “It was one of those last straw things with corporations. It just simply didn’t work out and that’s when I kind of went 'I just want to do something on my own'. I have 3 kids so I also wanted to have the ability to still stay at home with my family because family comes before anything for me. If my family doesn’t fit into any decision that I make then I won’t do it.”
Barb’s first published issue was the Byron Villager. She explained that growing up in Byron and having a personal passion for her community is what moved her to begin The Villager: “thinking I love my community and its history. That is where this brainchild came from. I literally started it with my fingers crossed. I said to myself I’m doing this because I want to, and hopefully, others want it and I remember when the first issue went out, it was like wow I can actually make something that I’m passionate of into a business”.
What do you do here?
“I do a series of community magazines. I have a passion for the magic of community and people working together in neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods are fascinating to me because people are living next door to each other that in any other context wouldn’t know one another. One’s a fireman, ones an artist, but what they do have in common is that they’re on the same street and they’re all concerned about their neighborhood.
By way of putting these together into the community, it allows you to get to know your neighbors and get to know the businesses. It’s a connection, that’s what drives this, and that’s why I think this business model has been so successful.”
How Has the Villager changed or progressed since its opening in 2015?
“Byron became a part of London in 1961 but people from Byron will say ‘I’m from Byron’, they don’t say ‘I’m from London’. Lambeth is the same way, it was eaten up by the city in 1993, but the people who live there say they’re from Lambeth, not London. So what that says to me is that it’s still very much a community and very insular in that way. So for me, it was like well this is working in Byron - and naturally, Byron is right beside Lambeth- then maybe the same model can work in Lambeth.”
When choosing a community, Barb works with the city to discover if there are active community associations and businesses to support that community. She explained that with each new magazine she began, she had to prove that she was there to stay.
And she certainly has! Today there are 8 villager magazines – Byron, Lambeth, Wortley, St. Thomas, Komoka-Kilworth-Delaware, Port Stanley, Hyde Park-Oakridge, and Pride- and coming this fall that number will be increasing to 10!
Barb is looking to add two new issues to the Villagers community magazines. These magazines will share the stories of the senior communities in Elgin County and London.
What is your vision for Villager Publications?
“I want to touch as many people as possible that is really the mission. The bottom line is that’s what makes me feel good, to know that i'm positively affecting people and able to fill any gaps for communities who do not have effective mediums.”
What sets apart the Villager from various community magazines?
Their uber localness! Barb explained that many of the stories published are unique to the community: “you won’t find them anywhere else, they were dug out, and they were researched”.
Many of the stories shared in the Villager feature people who, otherwise, would not have the opportunity to share their story.
it is important to spend time to really get to know the people in each community before writing a story. Barb accredits taking extra time and care as being monumental to the Villagers success:
“The main difference is that I sit around with a lot of the elderly in these communities and flip through their albums. Now I have people in the community who message about a story they have. But that’s why when you deal with people, get down and personal, you have integrity, and you do it for the strength of the community, people will see that and they’re happy to be a part of it”. Barb and her team work hard to ensure that each story is credible and unique to that community.
What would you like to share with readers?
“The big difference is that I do this out of my passion for the community and that’s why I don’t do generic stories. My point of difference is that I could do 20 of these and do all these generic stories, but that’s then getting back into corporate and going against my values. And my values have less with money and a lot more to do with integrity and making people happy.”
You can find Villager magazines online or at select locations. Make sure you keep an eye out for next months issue!
The Business Help Centre (CFDC) of Middlesex County is staffed by a team of business professionals who encourage entrepreneurship and the pursuit of economic opportunities. Funding support for the corporation is realized through partnership with FedDev Ontario. As part of the Community Futures program, the Community Futures Development Corporation of Middlesex County provides the following: ● Business Consulting & Resources ● Term Loan Investment in Small Business ● Community Economic Development
“I came here initially to sell the Business Help Centre some advertising, in that first initial meeting, of course, I wanted to see if it made sense for them to advertise but I learned a whole lot and it’s like wow, what an incredible resource! The resources and advice blew me away, I didn’t realize it was all so available for free. I talked to them because I was looking at expanding. They gave me a loan, and in the course of that Cindy sat me down and was like, ‘let’s get a whole snapshot of your business’. I hadn’t done that before and it was so good! The loan enabled me to forge ahead and have systems in place to be able to do the next phase of my business.” - Barb Botten