The Master’s House has been at the heart of Ledbury life for more than 500 years. Today it is home to Ledbury’s library and much more.
It started life as a home for the Master of St Katherine’s Hospital, which was founded in 1231 to provide for the spiritual and material well-being of the poor and the aged, the sick and the distressed, travellers and pilgrims. Hospitals such as St Katherine’s were fairly common in the Middle Ages, but few have been retained in their entirety, which makes the Hospital complex one of the most important surviving medieval hospital sites in the country.
Between 2011 and 2015, after years of neglect and disuse, a group of volunteers – the Friends of The Master’s House – spearheaded the restoration and redevelopment of the building so it could return to its place at the centre of the community.
By 2016, the Friends were increasingly aware that now the building had been restored and opened to the public, the press and publicity it had been receiving was waning, especially outside Ledbury itself. They recognised they needed a website to help keep the building in the public eye both in Ledbury and further afield. They also recognised they were going to need help to do this.
So in July 2016, having seen and liked the Ledbury and District Civic Society website I had worked on a number of years ago, Robert Waddington, Chairman of the Friends, approached me to ask for my help in developing a website for The Master’s House.
When Robert and I spoke on the phone, he told me the Friends were looking for someone who could design a website, ideally in a format that would mean volunteers would be able to update it themselves once it was live. I recommended a local designer, Helen Reeves, who I had worked with on the Civic Society project to do the design work. I also recommended WordPress as the system that would allow them to make any changes they needed to once the site was live.
The next step was to set up a meeting with Robert, Helen, Rachel Lambert, who was the Friends’ Heritage and Volunteering Coordinator and me to discuss the project in more detail so Helen and I could provide a quote for the work.
At the meeting, we discussed their requirements in more detail: a website that reflected the branding The Master’s House already had in place, provided information in a way that was easy to navigate and understand and some way of displaying the multitude of events that take place in the building. The overarching aim was to encourage people to visit the building. We also took the opportunity to start to think about the content and sketched out a sitemap that reflected the fact The Master’s House is a living, thriving building but also one with a rich history and an interesting renovation story.
By the end of the meeting, it was clear the Friends would need Helen’s expertise in designing the website. When it came to my area of expertise, content, I suggested three possible solutions so they could choose the one that best suited their needs and budget.
The first was a no-cost option: the advice I gave during our meeting would be pro bono to support a grassroots organisation I felt had done something extraordinary in getting a nationally significant project off the ground. I suggested this option because the Friends are a highly motivated and intelligent group of people who have the knowledge of the project that would be needed to put together the content for the site. On the other hand, as volunteers, their time is precious and they had no experience of writing for the web.
The second was a mid-price option and the middle ground in terms of time commitment too: I would provide notes on writing good web copy to help the volunteers. They would then write the copy and hand it over to me to edit for consistency and tone.
The third was the most expensive option in terms of price but the cheapest in terms of time commitment from the volunteers. In this option, they would hand over any and all information they had got on The Master’s House and leave me to structure and pull together the content for the site. I would then ask them to read and approve it. This was the option the Friends chose and I was delighted because it would give me the opportunity to get a real insight into this amazing project.
The first stage of the project was for Helen to put together a first draft of a design for the website and for me to put together a first draft of the content. We then met a core group of the Friends to present our work and get their feedback. Helen’s design was overwhelmingly well received at the meeting and I emailed a link to the draft website after the meeting so everyone could read the content in detail and provide comments and feedback. I’m delighted to say that, with a few small amendments, the content was signed off too.
The website was launched in March 2017 in time for the second anniversary of The Master’s House opening to the public following its restoration. Once it was launched, Helen trained a small group of Friends in how to use WordPress to update the website and we are both on hand to offer help and advice if anyone ever gets stuck while working on the site.
As a group we have very little technical knowledge and in many cases are unfamiliar with the internet. We sought the help of professionals because while we could have tried to do something ourselves, it could have been a very painful experience and not given us what we needed because we didn’t understand the possibilities.
We found the whole process of developing the website very enjoyable. You and Helen were friendly, helpful and easy to talk to. We particularly appreciated your intuitiveness and were grateful you didn’t use jargon or assume we had more knowledge about the internet than we do.
Now the website is live we are getting very good feedback about it. It is clean, neat, clear, easy-to-use and not too complicated. At the same time, there is plenty of information that people can access if they want to.
Robert Waddington, Chairman, Friends of The Master’s House
If you liked this, subscribe to my newsletter and get my latest blogs delivered to your inbox once a month.