The photo shows Digby Stephenson, who led the community engagement aspects of the project and has become Editor-in-Chief with Steve Bailey who led the overall project and is now Chairman. Photo credit: Mike Beardall, Oakfield Media
How did the Hub get started?
In mid-2011, the Community Partnership and Parish Council published a new Community Action Plan for 2011-15. A key goal was to strengthen the community through better communications and information services. The idea of using the web to provide information was a natural one, but there were some obvious barriers. One was that there were already well over 100 websites in the Henfield area, all competing for attention. Another was how to meet the diverse needs of a community of some 6000 people. And not least was the issue of how to fund the development of the website.
A small working group of volunteers was set up to explore the options. Project leader Steve Bailey says “The feedback we got from residents over several months really drove our ideas on how a Henfield website should work. We realised that it’s not about giving people information, so much as connecting everyone to information that’s already there. The content had to come from the people in the community themselves”
Fortunately, West Sussex County Council was supportive of the idea and was able to help with funding from the Big Society fund.
Where did the name come from?
Henfield itself acts as a hub, providing shops and services for people from a wide area, including the surrounding villages like Shermanbury, Partridge Green, Woodmancote, Small Dole, Fulking and Edburton. In the same way, we hope the website will become the place where people go to find whatever they need. And Henfield Hub sounds good too!
By the way, it is not the first Hub to be well-known in Henfield. The original blacksmith’s hub, used to make cart wheels, is set in the footpath opposite the old forge at the top of the High Street.
Who developed the Hub?
The design and web development was done by Louis Frankland and Paul Dickie of Prompt Creative Consultancy based in Southwater. They were the inspiration for the technical design of the hub as an interactive social networking tool.
A small project team of Henfield volunteers put in many hundreds of hours work, identifying the community requirements, engaging support, publicising the work and testing the website. Dozens more people helped with contacting organisations, providing content and other aspects of the work. We are grateful to them all.
What makes the Hub different?
The Hub is very different to the traditional village website. First and foremost, it differs in the way that every club, society, charity, community organisation and business can have its own pages on the Hub, which they can update as often as they like with the latest news, stories and events.
Organisations that have their own websites sometimes ask why they should be on the Hub as well. The answer is that the Hub acts as a shop window to the community. Whether you want to attract new members, raise funds or find customers, being on the Hub is like moving your business into the High Street. You become much more visible.
How is the Hub managed?
Each community organisation, club or business is responsible for managing its own page on the Hub.
A Board of Management, made up of volunteers from the community, oversees the operation of the Hub and ensures that all decisions are made in the community interest.
An Editor-in-Chief, appointed by the Board, has the final decision on day-to-day matters concerning content and style.
Help for local businesses to get the best out of the Hub is provided by a Business Manager, who receives an income from business membership and advertising revenue.
The technical maintenance and hosting of the Hub is provided under contract by Prompt Creative Consultancy.
You can read more about how the Hub is managed here.
Will it last?
Sustainability has been a key concern from the outset and we have planned for the long term.
Many village websites fail when the people behind them run out of steam. Rather than rely solely on volunteers, we have created a new post for a Managing Agent who can earn an income from advertising and membership revenues. This means the Hub will have ongoing professional management and administration.
The Hub also benefits from the continuing support of the Community Partnership and Parish Council, and the grant received from West Sussex County Council will cover maintenance costs for the first three years.
We think that all these things give the Hub a better than average chance of lasting for a long time. Ultimately though, the success of the website will depend on whether the people of Henfield find it useful and worthwhile.
Where is it going?
Our goal is to get every club, society and community organisation in Henfield on to the website, together with as many local businesses as possible. That will ensure that information about news and events is readily available.
Beyond that, we aim to grow the sense of community that comes from our pride in Henfield and our willingness to work together to make it an even better place to live. The Hub will provide a springboard for many new initiatives. We already have examples:
- Steyning Grammar School was able to donate a numbe of used computers to us. These were refurbished by Henfield volunteer Robert Seaford and made available to people who needed one. Around 35 local residents were able to benefit from these refurbished machines and several are avilable for public use (eg. in the Leisure Centre).
- The Hub helped to start the Computer Club for people who wanted to learn how to use a computer. The club now meets regularly and is well attended.
- The team preparing the Neighbourhood Plan has been able to publicise the work and obtain community input via the Hub.
- We now have the capability to conduct online surveys. This has already being put to good use by a group conducting a survey about employment in our area.