Today’s infants acquire technical skills as part of their development. That’s not the case for any of our trustees though, and those involved with the website design are a very mixed bunch. So thank goodness for The National Lottery Heritage Fund, who provided a grant to cover the cost of a new website as part of our Readiness & Resilience project.
There were four of us, Matt our carefully chosen website designer, and (in order of competence) John, Anne-Maree, Jan and me. Of course we already had a website, and it has served us well for seven years, but we’ve changed, circumstances have changed, and life has changed – Covid-19 has confirmed that.
Our digital ambition was - and is - to encourage as many people as possible to engage in Halstead's heritage. We want to showcase Halstead’s built and natural environment, demonstrate how it's part of Halstead's history, appeal to everyone, provoke curiosity, inspire our website visitors to find out more, and spur them into action.
We’ve been planning this for years and provided considerable detail for our funding applications last year – and I suspect we all had quite similar ideas of how our new website would look in the end - but we had no idea how very general and vague our visions were until the design got under way. It seemed that we were much clearer about what we didn’t want rather than what we did. So as the providers of content and guiders of shape, we’ve been learning on a trial and error basis.
Our digital heritage journey began in February and we really were like reluctant learner drivers. The first weeks were slow and hesitant; we didn’t really start to change into higher gears until well into March – and then lockdown happened. Was that a disadvantage? Well, social distancing wasn’t a problem, but being in lockdown didn’t help us to go any faster – although it feels like everyone has been moving at half-speed since then. And to continue the motoring metaphor, perhaps it has made us pay a bit more attention to how we’re driving, to pay attention to the signs and see the obstacles more clearly.
The pandemic forced so many organisations, facilities and visitor attractions to close, so that lots of training have gone virtual – they’re online and often free. All of which means that other umbrella organisations have invested resources to provide training for venues and smaller groups like ourselves. So despite being close to our website launch, we’re still using online sessions to educate ourselves about our ‘digital heritage’ - and we don’t see that ending any time soon.
By the time you read this, of course, the website has been launched. And while we hope it will look finished, we also know that it will continue to evolve. We'll change, circumstances will change and so will our priorities, and our website will need to reflect them. We’d like you to help that to happen and we need your feedback to keep making those changes and innovations to the site that can best serve our heritage. So please, don't keep your opinions to yourselves!