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You've Got A Website? - So What!

15th April 2002

The day to day reality of running a community website - once the first flush of enthusiasm has passed - will be at the heart of discussions during a two-day conference in Inverness later this week (18/19 April 2002).

As website technology becomes cheaper and easier, more and more communities are looking to publicise their activities and attract visitors through the internet, with sites springing up all the time.

However, setting up an effective website - and then maintaining it - is often harder than it appears and can present a challenge to some, or become a burden to the individuals.

The Rural Websites conference will address precisely those challenges. Why have a website, how do you create one and how do you keep it fresh and engaging?

The conference is being organised by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Community representatives from across the Highlands and Islands will attend to learn from the experience of others.

Stuart Black, director of strengthening communities at HIE will chair day one of the two day event. He said: "Community websites are an invaluable information source, especially for people living in rural areas. They enable people to communicate effectively across long distances both with other people in the community, public bodies and decision-makers.

"Websites also let the outside world know about community events and activities as well as making people aware of what services are available locally."

Chairing the second day is Helen Betts-Brown of SCVO. She said: "Development of sustainable websites offers communities new ways for young people to engage in village and community activity. It also brings entire communities together and increases the opportunities for visitors and businesses to get involved too."

The first day aims to give people an overview of the long-term benefits and will go on to lay out the practical steps needed to get a website off the ground. Bill Fernie, creator and manager of the award winning community website Caithness.Org will share his own experience. He said: "You need to focus on what you want your web site to do and how much time you can afford to put into it. Some people might say that we have gone over the top on Caithness.Org but our commitment is total and we exclude nothing.

"We have over 20,000 pages on the site but as we are nearing 1 million hits a week I believe we are doing something right. What started as a hobby has become our business and we now run Caithness Business Index and Scorrie Internet Services and our latest project Sutherland Business Index.

"Using the internet gives local people the chance to take the initiative and it is definitely the most cost effective way to promote an area, its people and their businesses. Understanding that and having a passion to push it forward can bring endless spin-offs."

A series of workshops will lead participants through the various steps in website creation including choosing material, design and layout and tendering and outsourcing technical work. IT advisor for Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise Alistair Nicolson will talk about ways of sustaining a community site. He said: "The key to sustaining a website is keeping information up-to-date by incorporating the task into day-to-day administration. It is a good idea to identify one individual in the community group to take responsibility and do it as part of a regular routine."

The second day will focus on other people's experience including a workshop where community groups who already have websites can exchange information and share tips and a session where groups hoping to set up a site can put questions to a panel of experts.

Helen Betts-Brown said: "This conference will provide participants with a network of contacts to encourage the continuation of community websites, helping these communities to strengthen their views of themselves and others and thus contributing to community pride."

Anyone wishing to participate in the community website conference should contact Laura Bridges on 01463 235633 or e-mail laura.bridges@scvo.org.uk.

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