Ipswich Community Centre

I created a website for The Meeting Place, Whitehouse in Ipswich.

The Meeting Place is a Community Interest Company. The building is the former Whitehouse Residents’ Association and had been closed and empty for some time.

Mags Fortune reopened the centre in autumn 2014, with support from Ipswich Borough Council, and is also using it as a base for Wot’s Up, which provides activities for people with learning disabilities.

The website has been produced to be simple to use and maintain and to be highly accessible to the very diverse audience the centre attracts.

Using WordPress.com the site also achieves another aim of keeping to a very low budget — £0 in fact as there are no hosting costs and I undertook the work for free.

The work including creating many of the graphics including the site header and a floorplan, drafting all the content and will include online promotion and search engine optimisation.

At the moment there is no ‘www’ domain name — it’s extremely difficult to find a suitable free domain name given that The Meeting Place is so generic and Whitehouse and all its combinations seems to be rather popular with the Americans! So for now this will be an interesting experiment in how far you can go with a website through link building and organic search minus a ‘www’ domain name.

If you’re in the Ipswich area, please do add a link to this site!

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Charity website

Carefree Kids is a small charity working in East London.

I created a new website for them working on every stage from initial planning to implementation.

The charity’s aims were to move the site from a Joomla! platform, which had been set up by an agency and which only one person knew how to update, to a self-hosted WordPress.org site so that more staff and volunteers could be trained to contribute to the site.

By moving to WordPress and a new hosting service they were also able to reduce their monthly website costs to just the cost of the hosting (around £5 a month) and the cost of the domain name.

My role covered:

  • Setting objectives for the website
  • Creating a content plan and production schedule
  • Creating a mock up site using WordPress.com
  • Selecting a design theme
  • Creating a menu structure
  • Creating a categories and tags structure
  • Writing selected pages including:
    • Cookies and privacy page
    • Accessibility page
    • Contact page
    • Donate/fundraising section
  • Editing and proofreading all other pages:
    • For sense
    • For navigation
    • For spelling and grammar
  • Set up a Translate page to link automatically to Google Translate
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) on all pages, posts, images and graphics
  • Creating and uploading graphics and embedded content including:
    • new header
    • location maps
    • graphs
    • embedded calendar and spreadsheet
    • formatting Word documents into the charity’s housestyle
    • adding alt-tags and maximising for SEO
  • Creating inline CSS graphics
  • Editing and enhancing photos
  • Transferring the domain name
  • Transferring the hosting
  • Installing WordPress.org
  • Exporting the WordPress.com mock up site into WordPress.org
  • Installing the design theme
  • Selecting, installing and activating plugins
  • Selecting and installing widgets
  • Creating widgets
  • Editing and checking hyperlinks
  • Creating a user sitemap
  • Creating an XML sitemap
  • Setting up social media and sharing links
  • Writing and publishing blog posts on the site and social media
  • Creating a spreadsheet of plugins evaluated and those chosen and installed
  • Creating a site back-up/export file
  • Monitoring initial analytics
  • Creating training notes and presentations for staff/volunteers

Initial meetings were held in London, while I still lived there, however most of the work was carried out remotely after I moved to Ipswich.

The site was delivered to schedule, just before the old hosting arrangement was due to expire and went live without any downtime.

Screenshots

Inline CSS graphic

The graphic below was created on the original site using inline CSS code (the example here, however, is a screenshot saved as a graphic file). Inline CSS can only be used for basic text and colour graphics but has the advantage that the text can be read by screenreaders and Google Translate and so is more accessible.

Example of a graphic created on the original site using inline CSS

Google Translate

Language links to Google TranslateThe charity is in an area of London where high number of community languages are spoken. Linking the site to Google Translate allows instantaneous and automatic translation in over 70 languages. Google Translate is far from perfect and can produce some howlers, but this goes a long way to including people who might otherwise be excluded — and this charity has never had and will never have the funds to undertake costly translation and interpreting. Using Google Translate is simply a process of linking the code on the site to Google Translate — it costs absolutely nothing.

You can also see this in action on my site’s Translation page.

The examples below show French and Gujurati. Note how the coloured buttons in the right sidebar, produced using inline CSS, have translated as well.

Charity website in French

Gujurati

 

Privacy and cookies

It’s been a legal requirement since 2012 to include a privacy and cookies policy on your website, but many sites still do not comply with the law.

Privacy and cookies graphic

Data Protection

If you’re collecting personal data you should also have consent for that. Many sites do not comply.

Data Protection graphic

 

Maps

Maps graphicIt’s easy and commonplace to embed a map from Google Maps into your website. Before you do, make sure though that you have submitted your details to Google Places through Google MyBusiness.

However Google maps has limitations:

  • it’s links to local transport arrangements don’t always give the best recommendations — and won’t be able to show supplementary information about local car parking or accessibility arrangements for example
  • you have to be online to use it — tablet users who are not paying for an extra away from home internet connection or smartphone users who pay for internet access or have limited downloads might not thank you for that
  • Google Earth photos are often out of date: your building may not be shown or may have a different name on it if you moved in in the last few years
  • for businesses it may show your competitors more prominently than you

Many of these issues affected the charity and their target audience, so we decided to give two options:

  • embedded Google Maps
  • a simple pdf map I drew for them

Giving alternatives helps to increase the accessibility for everyone.

Testimonials

I installed a testimonial plugin (it had to be a very basic one without complex settings) which I set up to work on both the sidebar and on selected pages.

Unfortunately the plugin assumes you can add the photo of the person giving the testimonial — that isn’t feasible for this charity so I created a set of simple quotation graphics in different colours to replace the otherwise ugly hole left by the lack of a photo.

Testimonials graphic

 

London community website

In autumn 2011 I set up a community website in Leytonstone, East London (E11) in the London Borough of Waltham Forest and bordering Stratford.

Background

Leytonstone was well placed to benefit from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Leytonstone was a prime regeneration area. A Business Improvement District (BID) had been set up in the Leytonstone town centre area, but their website mainly communicated with other BID members, not shoppers or the local community — and the majority of Leytonstone was not covered by the BID area.

Leytonstone was also not a formally recognised area: like many London ‘villages’ it had clear historical roots, people identified that they lived in Leytonstone, but it had always been part of other administrative areas. Since 1965 it has been in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, before that in the Borough of Leyton and Leytonstone in the County of Essex!

But just two stops on the Central Line to Stratford, London 2012 looming and the new, vast shopping centre at Westfield Stratford, Leytonstone had feet in two camps and felt lost.

If you searched online for ‘shops in Leytonstone’, ‘doctors in Leytonstone’ or any other grouping you would find nothing or the information would be lumped together with different areas — and not always the same areas as health services, business services and many other public services all have their own boundaries and don’t necessarily follow council boundaries, and certainly not postcodes.

I approached the BID and asked if they had plans to set up their own website — there was no point duplicating or competing — but they did not. There was a ‘Town talk’ website, but this used syndicated content and library photos — the Leytonstone pages would often show pictures that looked more like a scene from Suffolk: windmills, open fields and a golf course, but not Leytonstone’s own attraction, Hollow Ponds.

A number of local initiatives had started up — spurred on by the Olympics — so I rolled up my sleeves, got my camera out to build a library of local pictures, opened a WordPress account and created a local community website, which I eventually named Leytonstone Today, having found that somebody else had bought nearly all the simple domain names using ‘Leytonstone’.

Leytonstone Today

As well as the website I created a number of social media sites. These provided both a way of publicising the site and its content and an important source of local information which I would then follow up and use to create regular news posts.

The site was pitched as being information, and supporting the local community, not campaigning. I was happy to point people to local campaigns, but I took a strict line that the site would not become partisan or controversial and I would leave bad news to the local media.

Number 2 on Google with zero budget

The site soon started climbing the Google search rankings and eventually reached number two on a Google search on ‘Leytonstone’. The number one spot was held by Wikipedia, beating a site as huge as Wikipedia was always going to be a tough ask.

However, on a ‘long tail’ search — where people type in not just ‘Leytonstone’ but eg ‘shops in Leytonstone’ it would frequently be number one position.

Was I spending thousands of pounds on advertising? No — I spent precisely £0 on advertising, in fact the only expense I had was about £12 a year on the domain name http://www.leytonstonetoday.net. I hosted the site on WordPress.com, which is totally free (though it did mean I couldn’t accept paid advertising, but paid advertising was something I had always considered to be a later stage, and I could upgrade to their other platform WordPress.org when I wanted to do that for just a few pounds a month). Read more about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

I achieved these rankings purely through following Google’s guidelines on search engine optimisation:

  • well written content
  • regular updating of the site
  • good use of images
  • good links to and from other relevant sites
  • good use of tags (also known as keywords) on news content
  • using keywords in static page content, social media and press
  • careful study of the site’s analytics to see which was the most popular content, what search terms people sued to get to the site and the time of week/day that different content appeared to be most popular (a sunny day had a lot of impact) and then adjusting content and news posts to tap into what the readers wanted
  • tapping into local angles on national/London wide issues

It took a lot of time, a lot of experimentation, some mistakes. The site would not win awards for structure: it grew organically without much of a plan (which I wouldn’t advise!), some photos and graphics were created at break neck speed to get a news post published quickly, but it still worked and was well received by the local community and local community leaders.

And then I moved to Ipswich

Sadly, however, it became obvious that this site would have a limited future. A huge row broke out between the local E11 BID, traders in its area and the local councillors. I won’t re-run the stories here, search for ‘E11 BID’ on the Waltham Forest Guardian if you want to find out the latest.

I had no formal/contractural relationship with any of the parties involved, but to take the site to the next level I would have needed more formal co-operation with the BID and it was clear that the climate wasn’t right for that. Co-incidentally an opportunity came up to buy a house in Ipswich and I decided it was time to move.

With hardly any updating over the last year, Leytonstone Today continues to grow in readers — partly helped by Damon Albarn releasing a track about Leytonstone’s Hollow Ponds, which I did post about!

I had thought, a year on, that I’d shut the site down but some people have contacted me directly saying they still find it a useful resource and that it provides a unique historical snapshot of that wonderful summer of 2012 in East London. So, who knows.

Hyperlocals are growing

Since starting the site I’ve discovered that this kind of community site is recognised as a growing phenomenon. They are known as hyperlocal media. The government and Ofcom have done reports on them. There’s a national database listing them. Academics are studying them — Cardiff University even has a Centre for Community Journalism which runs courses specialising in this very medium (including a free online MOOC which I’ve done since moving to Ipswich).

So without realising I’d tapped into a new trend and in doing so I had a lot of fun, learnt a lot and helped the local community.

Community websites and use of social media can play an important role in regeneration and community cohesion and improving digital literacy.

If I can bring my experience to help your local community project, or small business please contact me.

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