About (Websites)

Rosalind Martin April 2015Websites have to work. If they are not making a difference to somebody in the real world, then there is really little point in building them. They have to be beautiful and display properly on every screen size under the sun, or potential users will get fed up and leave. They have to be simple in concept, or I will have to run them personally for the rest of my life!

The largest website in my portfolio is one I built to deliver more ringers, ringing more often, to a higher standard, and having more fun. It is the Guild website for the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers. Within 3 months of going live, it topped 1000 pages/posts in total, so it has been an excellent proof of concept for assisting users to navigate a huge amount of information. It receives the lion’s share of its traffic from Search Engines and Facebook (about equally split) and serves roughly 2000 bell ringers across Hampshire, The Isle of Wight, and the Channel Islands.

Meeting the needs of over 200 distinct bands of bell ringers, plus about 20 different committees, whilst pulling together the information into one WordPress site so that the members can all benefit from each other’s knowledge and ideas has been the key challenge. A Twenty Fourteen structure, with hundreds of widgets which come any go as the user browses the site, has worked really well. As with any website, the most “wow” bits are the outstanding photographs that some members have provided. But to me the exciting thing is the way that, as bands come on board and start to post news onto the site, sharing it via email, facebook and twitter, their enthusiasm and engagement with the ringing itself seems to benefit.

The prototype for this website ran for 3 years for 23 towers. During that time the bands went from no under-18 members to 15 in total; we started to see new recruits in most towers, and the managing committee undertook a big consultation exercise and implemented a new program of activities. Cause and effect? Website causes change? I don;t think so – but a good, easy to use website with close ties with active Facebook and Email groups is, I believe, necessary if a geographically spread voluntary organisation is to evolve at any reasonable speed. I no longer manage the site – the ultimate success is to be able to train a successor and move on……

Training multiple users with widely varying levels of computer knowledge, to blog in WordPress, has been an ongoing challenge, which led to the creation of a test website for them to experiment with, mirroring wpbells.org. It is a classroom whose look and feel may change from day to day, so if you don’t mind I will not provide a link here! However, it is where I combine my skills in teaching with my Wirdpress skills to the most challenging level – often only communicating with the “students” via Facebook or email, providing a successful training experience has been a really interesting challenge.

My first commercially-built website was for the Witney Shuttle, a specialist airport transportation company based in Oxfordshire. This provided many opportunities to use CSS to tweak a theme whilst remaining firmly in the safety of WordPress.com. The client was fed up with web designers who build a site then disappear, so he is happily now making minor changes and adding information himself. He is impressed with the emergency help available from Wiordpress and reassured that the annual fee of $99 he pays for the “premium” package, plus occasional help from me, gives him the right level of support, he’s getting on with the real job of running his company. His website is tightly coupled now with Twitter and his Facebook Page for the first time – I sorted that out for him, he’s just too busy to fiddle about with computers, but he is a keen user of Twitter when he is out and about.