Goring-by-Sea is a part of Worthing in the county of West Sussex, but is definitely a separate community. We have a strong church, a residents association, and a website, all serving to promote a sense of community.
It is a residential area, right on the sea, with a wide greensward along the sea wall, used every day by day-visitors, for barbecues, ball games, para-kiting, and church outings. There is a yacht club, wind-surfers, surf boarders, jet-skis, beach huts, fishermen, and two cafes. There are no amusement arcades, no candy-floss, and very little litter.
At the last count we have 7819 residents in 3860 houses. 44% are pensioners which gives rise to the area being named Costa Geriactica, but in fact there are substantial numbers of families with young children in school. The village is fairly rich, with 3860 cars, many low milage with custom number plates. There are probably 963 dogs.
The Parish is notable because of Highdown saxon fort, the Ilex Avenue, and the Goring Gap which is the only place along this part of the coast where the green actually comes down to the sea. We have three notable manor houses, Courtlands, Goring Hall, and Field Place, and further to the North is Castle Goring – not in Goring, nor is it a castle, but our only Grade II listed building.
2. The Goring-by-Sea website
The website has been up since July 1997. There are now about 200 pages.
The number of visitors continues to grow. We are getting a steady 1900 visitors a week, and taking account of the many people who come back several times during the month, the number of unique visitors for May 2002 was 5894. They looked at 21,703 pages, to a total of nearly 134,000 file requests (hits).
Top pages are News, Weather and Diary with substantial numbers also looking at the Directory of local shops and services, and at the groups and societies.
Everyone who sells anything, or organises anything in the Parish has a compulsory free, but brief entry. These were taken verbatim from Yellow Pages or the like. In addition any services that are not provided in the Parish can get a free mention if it fills a need. Groups and Societies can have a page free. Anyone else in Parish can have a page on the website for a small annual fee. We have four sponsors who pay an annual fee in return for a mention on the homepage.
The weekly news usually consists of about six local items, is printed with the diary for the next month’s events and the state of the tide. Copies are displayed on 12 notice boards around the parish. One of the joys of the Internet is that if you have a factual error, or a typo, then it is easy to correct, even when it has been published for a few days. We endeavour that these errors occur as seldom as possible.
As webmaster I have a friend down the road that keeps his ear open for local news, any items I may have missed in the local papers, and comments on the webpages to keep me honest and spot the typos. This second opinion is a key factor in our success.
3. An aid to tourism
We do not really want to encourage tourism here. What we have is the beach, peace, and sunshine. But we know that visitors do check the Goring website, if only to see what the tide is doing.
We feature a full list of things to do, with links to 18 local attractions who have websites of their own
4. A channel for communication
We aim to list every group and society in the Parish with their programs of events. This is partly successful, but it is difficult to find some of the groups, and almost impossible to get them to tell us consistently what they are doing and whether it went well. People join groups to fulfill their hobbies, not to set up as a PR rep.
Several people from abroad have contacted the websmaster and asked for help in tracing relatives or friends and this we are pleased to do. This happens at least once per month.
Another local village website here has a guest book and a bulletin board. I have resisted providing either of these because of the heavy load in monitoring what is posted and purging the scurrilous items. With a bulletin board it is either feast or famine – either you get hundreds of messages or very few. Either way I cannot be bothered.
Email is a key factor. Most contributions are received by Email. News items are normally copied direct from local media websites. Complaints and comments to local government or local councellors are always by Email.
5. Costs and Benefits
The benefits are difficult to quantify. It is an ego trip. Promoting something which the author believes worthwhile. And a contribution to a community which we believe is important.
There are substantial costs in running an active community website. At least one day a week of my time plus normal out-of-pocket expense in obtaining a domain name, hosting, and telephone costs.
If you cannot put in the time, then I would strongly recommend that you do not even try to announce topical items, and keep to pictures and history. Many community websites do restrict themselves in this way and have very attractive and useful sites.
If we did not provide the website, the residents would still get local newspapers, freebee newspapers, and group and society newsletters.
In any publicity exercise you have to hit all the available channels and as often as possible. Newspapers, local radio, letterheads, visiting cards, Email signature lines, notice boards, local libraries and churches.
It costs money, but we enjoy it, and the community tell us they appreciate it.
Material prepared for The Rural Life Conference 9 July 2002 at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire.
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