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At home with the Plymouth Gossip Girls – the queens of Facebook

At home with the Plymouth Gossip Girls – the queens of Facebook
24 May
9:23

For almost a year there was just one solitary Gossip Girl in Plymouth.

Now the most-talked about Facebook group in the city is an unstoppable force, with 46,000 women in its ranks.

Plymouth Gossip Girls is many things: a force for good, a hive of tips and life hacks, a place to seek advice, and an out-of-bounds mystery to men.

But it almost never took off at all.

When Gillian Nair moved back to Plymouth from London, she missed being in a local Facebook group that allowed her to have hundreds of women’s opinions at her fingertips.

Gillian had set up Plymouth Gossip Girls as a group on her Facebook profile for nine months before she added anyone to it. She wasn’t sure if anybody would use it.

Gillian Nair set up Plymouth Gossip Girls - but it took her nine months to invite anyone to join her
Gillian Nair set up Plymouth Gossip Girls – but it took her nine months to invite anyone to the group
(Image: Penny Cross)

After chatting to her next door neighbour, Sam Dorrall, and good friend Sara Nicholls, the three of them began to add their female friends, family and colleagues to the group.

The trio had no idea that it would soon be part of thousands of Plymouth women’s lives – and quickly grow to become one of the largest geographical Facebook groups in the world.

Now, the group not only provides a safe place for local women to discuss everything from food to politics, they have also raised thousands of pounds for charity.

Plymouth Gossip Girls is moderated by founder Gillian, original administrators Sam and Sara, and six moderators, Jessie, Roxanne, Beckie, Christina, Becky and Laura.

This is their full story – and the questions you’ve always wanted to ask them.

What do the Gossip Girls want men to know?

Sam Dorrall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls set up the group two years ago
Sam Dorrall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls set Plymouth Gossip Girls up two years ago

Men often try to join the Plymouth Gossip Girls group, or ask why they can’t be a part of it.

Gillian finds herself explaining to them – and other people who aren’t in the group – that it is a friendly space on the social networking site, and not just somewhere where horrible things are said about husbands, boyfriends and bosses.

Right from the beginning, the three women decided that the group would be for females only, as there were no Facebook groups like it and it was similar to other groups Gillian had joined in London.

Gillian, 31, said: “There are a lot of local Facebook selling pages and also some local groups for chat, but it’s nice to have a group that is all women.

“Not because we don’t like men, because we do, but it’s just a safe place for women to discuss things.

“I do think that some men probably think [that]. The name probably doesn’t help.

“They think we are just silly girls gossiping, but actually we are helping each other, recommending, giving advice, just generally being supportive of each other and actually we don’t talk about relationships or men very much.

“I’ve tried to explain to people who aren’t in the group before, that it is not a group to gossip about people or speak badly of people. It’s the complete opposite of that and if any of that ever happens we do try really hard and lose sleep over trying to fix it and make it right.

“It’s not easy because it’s such a big group but such a big amount of people, and obviously we are not getting paid to put the time into it to make it what it is.

“But most of the time it is just women asking how to get a red wine stain out of a carpet.”

How did it all start?

Gillian with daughter Evangeline

Gillian said: “It started two years ago. I’d been living in London and was in a similar group in London and it was really, really helpful for local women to find recommendations and ask for advice on things locally.

“So when I moved back to Plymouth, I did think for a while about setting up a group and was a little bit apprehensive because I didn’t know how it would take off here, or if people would be into it or not.”

The mother-of-two spoke to her two friends, Sam and Sara, and they decided to add their female friends, family and colleagues – and they didn’t expect it to go any further than that.

Gillian said: “At first, it was a smallish amount of women. But it very quickly grew. For the first couple of nights it was like 500 but then suddenly it was 1,000.

“Very quickly it became something a lot more than we expected it to be, to be honest.

Gossip Girls: Sam Dorall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls
Gossip Girls: Sam Dorall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls
(Image: Penny Cross)

“We’ve nearly got 50,000 members now, which was not expected. We didn’t set up the group for that reason. We didn’t think we’d have that many people use it, or want to use it, [or] discuss all the things in it that they do.”

When the group first started in 2016, they allowed members to post without approval, which meant that the admins had to work a lot harder.

There are now several rules, which helps Gillian and her team moderate the group much more simply.

Sara, 35, said; “Anyone could just post in the very beginning.

“We had to delete a lot of things as people were using the group inappropriately. Now we look at every single post before it goes on.”

For a few months, the group also allowed members to share things anonymously, by sending their messages to an admin. A lot of these posts were often personal, sensitive matters.

Sam, 33, added: “With it being just the three of us, it was a lot of work.”

What makes the group great?

Gillian and her daughter, Evangeline
Gillian and her daughter, Evangeline

Each of the women have different reasons for why they think the group is great, from raising thousands for charities, helping local businesses, and providing a space for women to get real opinions.

Gillian said: “It’s funny for me when I see or hear people saying, ‘Oh you should post that in Gossip Girls’ or ‘Did you see that in Gossip Girls?’

“I don’t ever know what people think of the group myself, or how they use it or what they think it should be used for.

“We don’t actually know what people want from the group, we don’t know if they want to use it for recommendations or if they want to use it for chat.”

But Sam added: “What we do know that it has helped so many people and businesses.

“I suppose that makes it a bit special. It’s made people’s businesses a lot more successful.

Sara, who lives in the city centre, said: ” It’s just the difference between, like, you can always Google ‘Where are good places to get your hair done?’ but even though there are reviews and stuff online you can’t necessarily trust that they are accurate.

“But also if you are a beautician and you want to find new clients, you want to be able to look on that and go, ‘Someone is going, ‘Oh I want to get my nails done today” – they can say, ‘Oh, I’ve actually got a space today’.

“That fills that need it works from both ends of it.”

Gillian said: “I think again, in regards to what makes it special, is [that] we have done a lot of charity fundraising.

“We have raised money for St Luke’s Hospice, Children’s Hospice South West, the neonatal intensive care unit at Derriford, and the families of the three young men who died in the A38 accident last summer.

Gillian Nair (centre) with Sara Nicholls and Sam Dorall
Gillian Nair (centre) with Sara Nicholls and Sam Dorall
(Image: Penny Cross)

“I think coming together and doing good things is good.

“It does empower women to be kind to each other and actually to help each other.

“I think it’s all too easy for people to focus on bad things.”

Another thing that makes the group special is for women being able to feel safe employing somebody to carry out a job in their home.

Sara added: “We talk about female things, typically makeup and getting your hair done and that sort of thing, but it’s more like, ‘Can you recommend a mechanic that won’t rip me off?’ or, ‘Can you recommend a plumber?’.

“Because when you’re inviting someone into your home, you want to feel safe, so the recommendation from other women, it really makes you feel a lot more comfortable.

“Yeah, we have falling outs, but people tend to be supportive of each other.”

What is it like to monitor 50,000 Plymouth women?

Gillian Nair set up Plymouth Gossip Girls and never expected it to grow as big as it has done

The Gossip Girls admin team approve hundreds of posts a day, and have to delete around the same number of posts that may contain inappropriate content or language.

All of the admins and moderators try their best to make sure that there isn’t anything offensive said on their group.

Gillian said: “We approve about 500 posts a day. We delete probably as many a day – things that just aren’t appropriate for the group at all. Or things that we know historically would cause too much drama, so we just don’t approve posts like that anymore.

“But we still can’t stop sometimes things kind of unravelling in the comments. Even if we approve a post that is innocent, sometimes people can cause something out of nothing.”

The group will delete posts as soon as inappropriate content is spotted, flagged up to an admin, or reported to Facebook.

Sam, who lives in Plympton, said: “We have had to make it clear recently that you have to report a post, especially with that many post that have been approved, that many people are in the group, some posts have got hundreds of comments, so it gets harder for us having to go through the whole post.

“But now Facebook is being a bit more on our side, because you can report the actual comment not the whole post.

“It just makes it a lot easier.”

The group do liaise with the police if they feel there is need to. If a worrying post is submitted, they will try to find somebody who can provide advice or recommend the best place to find it.

Sara said: “We might not approve their post because we don’t want to endanger them or endanger somebody else, but we might message them and say, ‘Look, this is our advice’.

Why is the group different?

The Gossip Girls are now advising Facebook on how groups can become as successful as theirs
The Gossip Girls are now advising Facebook on how groups can become as successful as theirs
(Image: Penny Cross)

It’s huge. So big, in fact, that they’re now giving advice Facebook itself.

Facebook’s headquarters have been in touch to tell Gillian that they are impressed with Plymouth Gossip Girls as it is one of the most successful groups for a city the size of Plymouth.

“Our group is actually one of the biggest community groups in the whole of the UK, and in the world I think,” said Sara.

Gillian explained that recently she received a call from a Facebook employee from their San Fransisco office to discuss the group’s success.

“I had a call from someone that works for Facebook in San Francisco to stay that the group, for a particular geographical area, it has the highest numbers,” she said.

“It has come up on their report as one of the highest geographical community groups – and they were ultra-impressed that it was all women as well.”

Sara added: “We’re not a big city either and it’s all women. It’s impressive that they want to work with us to enhance people’s experiences in groups. It’s good that we have been able to give feedback.”

What’s life like now for the founders of Plymouth Gossip Girls?

Sam Dorrall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls
Sam Dorrall, Gillian Nair and Sara Nicholls

“There have been days where I have thought to myself, ‘Wow, this takes up a lot of my time’,” said Gillian.

“But it’s everyone else that makes the group what it is. In fact, even the success of the group is not down to us, it’s down to everyone else. It’s not down to us at all.”

Sara said: “We rely on them [members] to report things.

“We rely on them to provide interesting content and be kind to each other, to engage with each other, to help each other. And they do. It’s fantastic.”

Despite the amount of work that goes into the group, none of the admins or moderators make any money from it.

Gillian said: “We do get a lot of posts that we can’t put into the group because they are naming and shaming local businesses or people, or they are just full of expletives. But sometimes you do get really funny ones and we think, ‘Oh, should we just approve it because it is hilarious?’ – and we do.

“Sometimes there are evenings where a post is so funny and it gets hundreds and hundreds of comments and likes just because people find it hilarious.”

The group has members from as young as 16 to women in their 70s, 80s – and even in their 90s.

“There’s a big, big, age range and you never know what is going to offend somebody,” Gillian said. “People have been brought up in different generations. What I might find hilarious, you might find extremely rude.”

She added: “I think the main thing for me is that, one, we never expected it to be as big as it is, and two, we do try really hard to make it a safe place where people are nice to each other.

“We want it to be a place where people can feel comfortable talking to each other and not be judged. But at the same time, 50,000 Plymouth women in one place does mean that people will disagree sometimes.

“But the good outweighs the bad.”

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