More information from John Sullivan as to how the Winsham Web Museum was created. Please note the details here may no longer be applicable to the current site.
A long-term view is essential, although a reasonable sense of urgency is needed on a day-to-day basis to ensure that work on individual items of display and recording do get completed. One piece of advice remains fundamental to any project of this nature - KEEP IT SIMPLE!
With regard to the structure of the museum, we concluded that the best way forward for us was to imagine our ‘virtual museum’ site as a vast empty open plan building, capable of limitless expansion, which we could divide up as we chose. We would have an entrance hall. This would be our ‘Home Page’. It would contain an interesting exhibit to whet the appetite of visitors, display the main contents of the museum, and give directions for moving around.
We felt that we should have a series of ‘galleries’ designated to the main areas of interest. The ’Winsham at Worship’ gallery would, for example, be devoted to recording the history of worship in Winsham over as long as period as possible, and would include as much information as we felt would be of interest on religious activity. This gallery would be divided up into ‘rooms’. One room would relate to St.Stephen’s Church, our parish church which dates back to the 14th century. Another room would house information about the United Reformed Church in Fore Street. A third room might be used for the history of the Gospel Hall, belonging to the Plymouth Brethren (but which no longer in existence, having been converted into a house), if information about it could be found.
Each room would contain ‘displays’, and these could be sub-divided into ‘showcases’ if justified by the contents. For example, St. Stephen’s Church ‘room’ contains displays on the Bells, the Rood Screen, the Choir, etc, and if you look at the Rood Screen ‘showcase’, you will find that within this there are various levels of information accessible.
We then produced a long list of subjects that could be used for galleries. ‘Winsham at Work’ would house information about how people earned their living in Winsham over the centuries. It might have two rooms; one devoted to Agriculture the other to all other types of work activity and businesses. ‘Winsham at Play’ would encompass all the information we could find about the leisure activity of the people of Winsham over the years, displayed within the same general framework as described above. We have attached an Appendix giving the list of galleries and rooms, etc that we are considering for the future. They represent many years of future work.
The principle is proving to be a good one, although we do sometimes run into problems in deciding where a particular exhibit should appear, or inconsistencies develop between the galleries. You do not need to look very far to find them, but eventually they will be overcome. The problem of duplicate requirement is not serious because with a web museum the same exhibit can appear in more than one place as required.
It was agreed that it was important to establish the presence of the museum as quickly as possible, if only for the sake of morale and keeping the interest of the group. To do this we were attracted to those areas of Winsham activity that would respond reasonably easily to investigation and display. The Natural Science gallery in its present form was the first to be completed, followed by a major part of ‘Winsham at Worship’ and ‘Winsham School’.
Starts were also made on a number of other subject galleries, and these are being added as soon as significant elements are completed. No gallery, room or display can ever be regarded as completed as the potential to add to it always exists. We are finding that the information which interests village people the most is information about earlier Winsham people, but more about that later!
Initially all the work on gathering material and writing it up for the museum was focused on the members of the initial group. Discussions were held on how the museum should look, and all sorts of ideas were floated, including suggestions about typefaces to be used, and, fancifully, the possibility of having little cartoon characters lurking in corners of galleries, ready to act as guides, rather like the cartoon Office Assistants which appear in some versions of ‘Microsoft Office’. These were quickly dropped when our website guru explained the realities of programming in such creatures, and the need to use type styles that would be recognised by the various operating systems used by visitors to our site. The merits of keeping it simple were underlined once again.
By this time news about the construction of the museum website began to get around the village. Initially it was not met with universal enthusiasm. A few were a little suspicious of what might be involved, valuing understandably the privacy of the small village. However a substantial body of opinion was in favour, and we just had to accept that we would need to work hard at winning the others over. Our computer expert also had a problem. In all fairness he had given us a good start, but we could not expect this level of support to continue indefinitely. Furthermore the volume of work was increasing quite substantially. We could not reasonably expect to continue to nest in the quiet corner of the SSDC site that had become our home.
Once again we were very fortunate. Our IT guru, Bob Osborn, having lived for several years in the village, decided that he would join our committee as a private individual, and continue to work with us in his own time - something he had been doing anyway. He also suggested that the time was right to acquire our own domain name, which in our case came along with unlimited web space for some £60 for a two-year period. This raised an interesting point. What would we do for money? We were nearly at the end of our first year of existence and we had not spent any money, apart for the occasional film, the cost of which individual members had met out of their own pocket.
Clearly we could have raised the new domain charges among ourselves, but we felt that it would be a good idea to offer the Parish Council the opportunity to be associated with the project by meeting this expense for us. This they agreed to do. In return we named them as a sponsor, which sent a clear message to any doubters that the Parish Council approved of our efforts.
As our efforts began to bear fruit, a number of other ideas and problems began to emerge. As far as we could tell, only about half the village was on line. This figure is significantly higher among the younger age groups, and lower in the older people. This is likely to increase in both demographic groups as the years go by. Nevertheless, their are a significant group of older people who will never have an ‘online’ facility.
This group is also of especial importance to us as they are the repositories of a great deal of information about the first half of the last century. In addition to them being the source of a good deal of documentary evidence such as photographs, letters, etc, we also needed to tap their reminiscences, and record their accents and use of words. To enable older people to see the Museum, bearing in mind that some are housebound, or at least not very mobile, we needed a laptop, working with a Museum ‘back-up’ disk in order to visit these older members of the community.
To record their words we would need some portable recording equipment of reasonable quality. We had already tried using an ordinary cassette recorder for this purpose, with brilliant results as far as content is concerned, but with very poor sound quality.
It was also becoming clear that the time was approaching when we should appeal to the parish in general for help in our project by persuading them to share with us their memories. We were looking for photographs, artefacts, documents and reminiscences that we could scan, photograph or record.
All of a sudden the realisation came upon us that we needed some money, ideally a substantial amount. We needed a laptop computer, a minidisc recorder and microphone and the funds to run an ‘Antiques Road Show’ style event over a weekend to put the museum ‘on the map’ with the parish and to gather in material. We needed about £4,000.
We made an application to ‘Awards for All’, which distributes lottery money, and successful in making our case. Not that it was just as easy as that. Applications need to be made with great care, and a bank account needs to be set up in advance of making the application. To set up a bank account you need Officers, i.e. a Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer and a written Constitution. You do not need any money, although somebody did lend the museum £10 in order to get a printed statement, which ‘Awards for all’ needed as evidence of a bank account.
Meanwhile the museum continued to develop at a satisfactory rate, some galleries and rooms progressing faster than others. We put no time pressure on our contributors other than to ask them how long do they think that their work will take. At the end of that period we ask them to report on progress. This fairly relaxed approach works. It encourages busy people to participate, when the possibility of their being pressurised might scare them off. The Web Museum is an ongoing project, and we do not have any particular deadlines to meet.
John Sullivan 2002