We moved to Coggeshall in 2015. We Create Digital was first established in Essex back in 2011, but a move to London briefly took us away from the county. Once we arrived in Coggeshall, we got involved in our new village and its community quite quickly, as we love it here and want to support everyone around us.
Sometimes there are obvious ways a business can help a community. Sponsor an event, give away a freebie or simply have employees who use the services in the village. We were happy to do all of the above but for a while we were discussing whether we could do a bit more, and what that might look like.
One of the things we did notice was that there wasn’t really a way for people to find out what there is in Coggeshall. On the Facebook group (which actually has more members than there are people in Coggeshall) there are constantly questions such as ‘can someone recommend a….’ or ‘I’m looking for a group to join, does anyone know about…’. The reason these posts happen so frequently is that when someone answers, it only takes a couple of days for the post to be pushed down the feed and if someone missed it or didn’t think to take a screenshot or a number for potential future use, the information is gone. You can search through a group, but realistically people don’t for whatever reason. Being new to the area, we had to do this a lot so realised it was a common problem and one that could be a bit of a barrier to people getting involved in the community.
We didn’t want to replace this Facebook group but actually wanted to create something that would work well alongside it. At the same time, we had chats with other people in the area who felt the same way. What came out of all of this, was that a website could be a good idea to provide a platform for sharing information. It wouldn’t be just for groups but businesses too. This means that people are much more likely to use it on a regular basis, so it encourages repeat visitors. While on the website looking for one thing, they might see something else. Even if it is an Instagram post showing a corner of Coggeshall they haven’t been to before. So it was to be a sort of directory, signposting people to anything they might want to know about within Coggeshall, whether it was to find a business, group, event or even some history to the village.
You get these large ‘Visit xxx’ websites for cities but villages and towns need similar support and we hoped to fill the gap. Furthermore, we made a decision early on that it wouldn’t be limited to Coggeshall but would be open to the surrounding areas. As a rural area, most people accept that if they want to find something quite specific, it might not be on their doorstep! We also hoped this would expand the audience for the website and make it even more useful.
We decided to use WordPress, as it is something we specialise in but also easy to use. If we want others to be part of it, we can’t use a framework that you can only understand if you are a web developer. We also went with a colourful scheme that wasn’t too bright but also wasn’t the typical colours you associate with Coggeshall. One of the most recognisable icons of Coggeshall is the clocktower, but that means often things end up being blue and yellow! The logo took a bit of time as we were worried that ‘Love Coggeshall’ seemed a bit twee. At first even the name was a big debate but people who live here really do talk about loving Coggeshall so it worked. But it was important the logo tried to show that kind of love, instead of an attempt at branding or tourism. Once we had these basic ideas in place, it was time to get started on the project.
Can something truly be free?
After speaking to others about it, there was an obvious question that comes out of any idea - how much will it cost? Usually money has to be invested in order to get something going. In this case, we decided the cost would be our time. The benefit for everyone else was clearly that it meant a free website and that it could be done relatively quickly without having to wait for money to be donated or applied for. The benefit for us was that we had the skills and it gave us an opportunity to essentially show what we can do, but give back in the way we had been looking for.
While I mentioned above the website could be done relatively quickly, the one issue was our workload. We would spend a couple of weeks doing some exciting bits that made it look further along… and then a big deadline would arrive for a client project so we would have to focus on that. A free project is never going to get quite the same attention as a client paying for our services!
We also had to make some decisions about what features and functionality to include at the launch of it. We started with a long list of ideas and endless Trello columns that we were constantly moving cards between as we had to figure out what to prioritise. Essentially we decided to concentrate on the bits that would matter for basic everyday use - listings, categories, offers, the blog and adverts. The listings are where people can add a business, group or event and category pages simply show all results within this area. The adverts were there as a way to make a little money off the site but also help a business or organisation to shout about what they are doing if they want some more visibility.
While the website is free, we ask for donations. This is not because we think we are going to make enough back to pay for our time that went into it (wishful thinking!) but to just help a bit with some running costs like the server space and also print advertising we will be doing. That keeps any money we actually put into the website at quite a low figure.
The big day came for the launch. I nervously posted it on the Coggeshall Facebook group and on an Instagram account I have had for a while but only recently been active on. Within a few minutes, some people I know had said some kind words and liked the post. By the time I got back from picking my son up from nursery, the list of likes and comments was much longer. Pretty quickly it got to over 100 and with no negative responses. That might not sound like a lot, but when you look at activity on the group, it is huge. What was even more important, was that I then spent the evening approving listings people had posted!
We were taken aback by the response as we did get some donations and we got people proactively getting in touch to say they loved the website, it was exactly what Coggeshall needed and to say thank you. The support we have had since reaffirms our reasons for doing the website in the first place. We have had offers of guest posts, requests for support from local groups and also just so many suggestions for where to go next.
Now we know we have to get started on the next phase of changes to the website as we are being lobbied for more! Some of our ideas for this phase are user accounts so people can edit their own listings and a forum. Many people don’t use social media or keep away from Facebook, but we hope to give an opportunity for those people to still be included in discussions about what goes on. We also hope to add to the people who are involved in editing content on the site as we don’t want it to be owned by us, but to be part of the community.
What we would also love to do, is to create this for other areas. It is built in a way that it could easily be replicated for different locations - all it needs is some vision for the design and someone who is willing to add content and inspire others to get involved. As mentioned, there are clear benefits so whether a person’s aim is to use it to support their business, or to grow their volunteer base for a charity they run, they can have a role in helping to do that.