Ten Years of the Hebden Bridge Web
The first community website in the UK
The Hebden Bridge Web started ten years ago and was the first community website in the UK. It has grown and developed over the decade, become a model for other areas and to continually top Google, Yahoo and other search engines when people search Hebden Bridge.
The Hebden Bridge Web was founded by Chris Ratcliffe and Elaine Connell in the summer of 1995 and today the home page alone is visited well over 100,000 times a year and rising. There are many other sections which browsers often going to directly: books, history, news, comment, guestbook, photos, local websites, online columns, etc.
Chris Ratcliffe says, "In 1995 when we first had the idea, there were no community websites. We searched all over to find one which we might be able to model ourselves upon. But there weren't any. So we created our own."
Right from the beginning, the HebWeb (as the Hebden Bridge Web became known), received the enthusiastic support of our local community, from local writers, artists, photographers, environmentalists and campaigners. Its success has therefore not only been through our efforts but also because we live in a town which has both a deep and stunning beauty and which has a forward thinking, creative community who tend to be radical, imaginative and adventurous."
Because Hebden Bridge Web has been in existence so long, and because all content is kept online, it has a vast archive: thousands of pages, photos, and audio-visual content.
Chris Ratcliffe and Elaine Connell were part-time teachers when they started publishing books in 1991 using their Pennine Pens imprint. At that time, they had never heard of the Internet, the phenomenon which was to become the main part of their business.
Early in 1995, they started experimenting with web pages, initially as a way of publicising Pennine Pens books. We knew that there was a potentially world-wide interest in our books on the Cathars and Sylvia Plath, says Elaine Connell and we could see that the Internet could be a way of marketing the books in a way that even the big publishers were not yet doing.
When Chris first started creating web pages, he was on his own. There were no books or magazines at that time. He had to email people in newsgroups in the US to ask how to do the most basic of things
Although Chris could see what the Internet might become, hardly anyone understood what he was talking about! Frequently, Elaine would ask, "Can you explain to me again about this Internet. I don't understand how anyone could make any money from it." Soon Elaine couldn't imagine life without it.
NEWS AND COMMENT
We would wanted an area where local people could discuss issues important to our locality but soon realized that discussion forums present a challenge. Many bulletin boards are full of trite and lazily composed contributions. We were determined to promote good, informed discussion and even promote the good use of English on the Internet.
So, after some false starts, we decided to exert editorial control and moderate contributions. From time to time people have objected but the end result is that we have informative, readable, quirky contributions about things as varied as planned building projects, war evacuees, flies, deer, slugs, horseradish, anti-social behaviour and currently the closure of the Yorkshiire Bank branch and its replacement by Ladbrokes.
There are hundreds of news and comment articles, all instantly searchable. In the last 2-3 years, more and more people are sending us news items with photos which helps give the news different styles.
View from the Bridge by John Morrison first appeared as instalments in April 1997 as a regular column on the Hebden Bridge Web. John was just beginning to try his hand at comedy, and his irreverent way of writing affectionate caricatures of our local community immediately appealed to HebWeb browsers. This was an early attempt at online writing but the success of the column led to three separate books based on the column. The View from the Bridge trilogy were soon Pennine Pens' most successful books; surely, one of first examples of online writing to successful book. We subsequently followed this up with an online column by Jill Robinson: Berringden Brow.
Berringden Brow podcast
THE HEBWEB AS A POLITICAL TOOL FOR THE COMMUNITY
The web is a different dimension to the printed media. We try to see ourselves complementary to the local press rather than in competition with it. We can be effective for two reasons. Firstly, we can respond to issues straightaway. Secondly, we are able to reflect community concerns in a way the local papers can’t. We hope that contributors to the Hebden Bridge Web have helped in many community issues but those in particular where we have had an effect might be:
The Hebden Bridge Cinema was in 1999 threatened with closure. Frantic discussion took place on the Hebden Bridge Web - anonymous scans of council documents were being sent to us, almost every half an hour and we put them up just as quickly.
Campaign for Broadband the Hebden Bridge Web initiated the campaign for broadband in the Upper Calder Valley in March 2002. After an effective campaign, still detailed on the Hebden Bridge Web, Hebden Bridge got broadband in October 2003. The Hebden Bridge Web joined others in the campaign to create our own, local, community, co-operative ISP. 3-C has had, at times, a rocky ride, but over 300 local homes and businesses use it as their broadband supplier and we hope that through 3-C and the Hebden Bridge Web, our area won t get left behind again.
Elections for each of the 3 general elections over the past ten years, we have run a special election forum. Our correspondents and news writers were able to refer to polls showing, for our Caldver Valley ward, that Tory and Labour were neck and neck and Liberal-Democrats were quite a way behind in third place. It s not hard to imagine that many of our browsers would have then made the decision to vote tactically. No-one else was giving this information.
Chainsaw Tuesday (19th October 2004) was when fighting broke out between an army of security guards brought in by a local developer to defend their tree-cutters and residents of the community who wanted the land kept as a wildlife, woodland habitat. The photographs and video footage published the same day on the Hebden Bridge Web shocked the whole community, and started the debate about inapporpriate developments which continue to this day.
There is a danger that because the Internet can be ephemeral, back issues of websites will not be available in the same way as back issues of newspapers are. Although we have, over the years, kept some snapshot copies of the Hebden Bridge Web, we were delighted to come across the Web Archive, and find that it has over 100 snapshots of the Hebden Bridge Web, going back to 1998. Although some of the pages look embarrassing to us now, we have to remember that the Internet was young and possibilities were limited by bandwidth (photo sizes had to be kept small) and emerging technologies.
Sustainability: we have seen the Hebden Bridge Web as our commitment to our community as well as an effective shop window for our web design and development services. However, in the past couple of years, as we have attracted more advertising, it is proving to be a sustainable project in its own right.
Audio-visual we have recently started our first podcasts, and hope, in the future, to be able to relay live events which are happening in the area, eg, Arts Festival.
Beautiful site from start to finish. Interesting, artistic and tasteful in all respects. HebWeb guestbook
"What a clear, informative, friendly site. It's also inspiring to see people working together to create community - where HB leads the rest will follow?" Message to HebWeb
We thoroughly recommend the community website (HebWeb) for the passion and the humour with which the residents are tackling the situation. (Chainsaw Tuesday) Corporate Watch