Website of the Year

Visit Nunney

Founder and web editor, Adrie van der Luijt talks about the village website, Visit Nunney.

Visit Nunney is a village website run by local volunteers to promote tourism, business and the arts in the village of Nunney, near Frome on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire. The website had 30,000 unique visitors and we have 2,400 followers on Twitter – that’s for a village of 850 people. John Webb, editor of the local parish newsletter said of the site, “Too many websites are dull as ditchwater and out of date. The Visit Nunney website is different. It’s fresh, lively and packed with all kinds of up to date news, pictures, useful information, reviews, fascinating and well-researched local history articles, things to do, Parish Council news, advertisements, a local calendar and loads more. It’s a real eye-opener.” Founder and web editor, Adrie van der Luijt tells us more.

What was the inspiration for the site?

Although Nunney has a moated 14th century castle, ranked in the Top 10 Best British Castles by Visit Britain’s Britain magazine, right in the heart of the village, it is small. English Heritage can't charge admission and so it isn't really promoted. In a small community you must do everything you can to keep your village shop, pub and school going. We decided to produce some posters and flyers; a website was the logical next step. And having a pretty castle helps, of course.

When did you launch the site?

We registered the domain name in 2009. For the first couple of years we did one-off websites to promote specific events, such as the annual Nunney Street Market and Fayre – with 10,000 visitors one of the biggest village fêtes in the country. Because that was a relatively big effort each time, we relaunched the site in March 2013 in the current magazine-style format.

What are your greatest challenges?

Managing expectations. People expect that their event is included, with photos, videos and all the details, even if they didn't forward us details - because we have created that expectation. We started off very enthusiastically trying to cover everything we could possibly think of, always the latest news as soon as it breaks and with daily changing headlines. But that is nonsense. It is a village website and most readers visit on average twice a month. So as much as I hate old news - the relative value of information is one of my hobby horses -, you need to take a step back and consider whether it is worse if regular visitors feel they are missing out on content. Analyse your visitor stats, keep your content fresh but don't think that you are running a newspaper.

Also, my work often takes me away from Nunney for months at a time. I still keep the website updated every single day without fail - touch wood. Recently I spent a year and a half working on a government project in Manchester. It didn't make any difference to our site or social media coverage. In fact, we covered breaking news even faster to prove a point.

What's your background?

I am a journalist by training, having started as a cub reporter for local newspapers and business magazines at the age of 16. I worked on my first - rather primitive - government digital projects back in 1987, at the age of 20. Now I have my own company, Russells Barton Communications, and work on websites in the public and financial services sectors. I have set up websites for secretaries, CEOs, finance directors, property investors and others. But my real passion is still news editing and PR, because of the adrenaline rush they give.

Who do you admire in business?

I am sceptical about most high profile business leaders. Many business highflyers I have worked with are immensely gifted, but also highly temperamental - what they call "monstres sacrés", sacred monsters.

There are two exceptions. Mek Rahmani hired me in 2000 to launch and develop DeskDemon, a portal for secretaries, PAs and office managers; together we made it the market leader in its highly competitive field in both the UK and the US. We have a tempestuous style of working, but because we totally trust each other our clashes get us better results quicker. I wouldn't be where I am today without him.

The second is Claire Menzies, a friend and mentor who is Executive Chairman of global design and event management company, Ignition DG, in Bristol, part of Blue Flint Group. Claire built up a group of companies from zero by putting her trust in her team members. She takes no prisoners, but her enthusiasm and unfailing support for new ideas makes her a real winner. I guess ‘trust’ is the key word for both of them. That includes allowing others to make mistakes and learn from them.

Please recommend a website that helps you run your business

The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and findmypast to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library's vast collection over the next ten years. I use it all the time to uncover local history, often hidden in the tiniest of mentions. We regularly research and develop exhibitions on local history – all available on our site too –, most recently on child labour and education in the village during the 19th century. We keep finding out more and more through sites like the British Newspaper Archive. And Twitter, of course.

What is the best piece of business advice you've been given?

In my first job, for a local news publisher, my boss insisted that an editor should know every aspect of newspaper publishing first hand. So you worked on the printing floor, the typing room etc for the first couple of weeks. Mek at DeskDemon was the same. I learned coding, sales, graphic design, SEO and other aspects of running websites. As an editor, when you co-ordinate internal and external teams, it helps to know what others are talking about. Having all-round skills and knowledge is increasingly rare, unfortunately. In a practical sense, it also means that you can jump in and help out wherever it is needed to support your team.

What is your motto?

Never assume anything. Question everything.

Common sense and a healthy scepticism have stood me in good stead throughout my career, whether working with suppliers, internal stakeholders or top executives. I know that sounds at odds with admiring others who trust their team implicitly, but mistakes are often down to miscommunication and people not having access to the full information. So never assume that because the CEO or Legal signed off on something, it must be accurate.

Where do you see the business going from here?

Visit Nunney is more or less a hobby. My real business is Russells Barton Communications, which hopefully will continue to grow and take on new digital projects. Visit Nunney already helps other towns and villages create better event, marketing, PR and marketing.

We are turning it into a Community Interest Company, a special type of limited company that must reinvest any profit in the local community rather than pay out to shareholders. That will make the site more commercially-minded to fund future PR and Marketing projects, but that’s not a bad thing in my view. To date it has always come out of our own pockets; now we are ready to take it to the next level.

It would be difficult to replicate the site in other towns and villages without local intelligence - passionate local residents who provide content. But we can provide the models and train people to run better websites in towns and villages across the country.

Have you entered an award before?

Never with Visit Nunney. We were not ready until now. I won an essay award when I first came over to the UK from my native Holland in 1995. I had entered to prove a point, because it was tricky applying for jobs as an editor and copywriter when you are not a native speaker. Now I rewrite government and financial services websites for a living, so I think it all worked out for the best.

Where did you hear about the GWG Awards?

I came across it on Twitter, I believe. It's so exciting and a real eye opener. We have been going through the website with a fine-tooth comb, fixing errors, making improvements and asking everyone for feedback. Even if we don't win, the GWG Awards have already been really useful for Visit Nunney.

August 2014