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West Somerset Railway General Discussion

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by gwr4090, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. Bayard

    Bayard Part of the furniture

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    Some observations on your observations:
    2) That's even worse. That means that the Plc took the attitude that although they hadn't got the time to update the website, presumably because they had furloughed all the staff, they weren't going to let people who had both the time and the inclination to do so, real dog in the manger.
    3) I tried quite hard to avoid this impression, which is, as you say, unfair, but obviously not hard enough. The reason why I said that the publicity person seemed asleep at the wheel was not this one article, but a series of missed opportunities over the last few years. As to someone from the Onion Collective mentioning the WSR and being ignored, I did say that was a possibility. There has nothing about any contact or liaison with the Collective in any of the official news channels and I take it there wasn't on your website. With the publicity department keeping such a low profile, it is easy to think that nothing is happening. Perhaps it is, in which case, why not let everyone know? Why not have a "Publicity" section in the WSR Journal, so that it can be seen what they are doing to publicise the railway?
    4) The conflation of the Plc management with "The Railway" is all too common in replies from those who are supportive of the Plc. I think that any volunteer reading my post would be able to see that it is critical of the publicity department, not of the railway as a whole. In what way could, say, the carriage cleaners feel that they were being criticised by a failure of the railway to engage with the mainstream media? Yes, I could have found out who was in charge of publicity and written to them pointing out that their offering was lacklustre at best, however, I feel that that would have achieved even less than airing my concerns on here. I don't believe for a moment that the person concerned doesn't already realise that there is a lot more that could be done. Reminding them of the fact will not achieve anything positive.
    5) "Next year"! It seems a WSR speciality to take years to do what others usually do in months, if not weeks. How long does it take to update a website, FFS?
     
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  2. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Just an observation on this digression about the "Collective". It's a piece about a community project in a small town that, when I stayed in the area 25 years ago, was very vulnerable as it lost industry and became exposed to being in the isolated location it is in. The article is about what this group have achieved, not the town as a whole - let along the railway line that runs through the heart of the town. Looking at their website, I'd frankly have been amazed if the WSR had been a significant influence as they set up - the focus of the whole project is somewhere completely different from WSR.

    If we're going to be concerned about the position of the railway, then I'd suggest there are two aspects to consider. First, is why the railway doesn't register in the local consciousness as more than just a string of signalboxes. Second, looking at their funding sources, we see the opportunity cost thrown away by not engaging with the grant givers' agendas.
     
  3. Steve Edge

    Steve Edge Member

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    Thanks for your further comments. May I respond? (2) A result of the Plc's preference to use only their own staff to look after their own website, it seems. Not my choice but there it is. (3) I may be wrong but I think it was you who said the WSR had missed an opportunity to be mentioned by name in the Guardian article, an article-in-prep the WSR knew nothing about. Then whilst writing about the article, you said the publicity guy was "asleep at the wheel". OK, you meant it to be a number of other missed opportunities. May I ask what those were? Just for the record? There was a "Publicity" section in the Journal, once upon a time. I know cos I prepared the publicity reports. Not sure why there's not such a section now. Maybe if all was under one roof ;) I did suggest the Platform newsletter was branded and designed in the rather nice current Journal style. Maybe one day. (4) I still think it is worth contacting the publicity guy. Yes, as you say, they know there's a lot to be done, and your remarks might help them focus and prioritise those tasks. Putting it on here may not be the most effective way of getting your thoughts to the right people. (5) I gather it is not an update of the website but a complete overhaul. And not before time, either. Whatever, an overhaul (which I assume means thorough research, content, redesign, navigation, user-friendliness, testing and more) is not a five minute job for anyone, well, not in my experience.

    Steve
    wsr.org.uk
     
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  4. Steve Edge

    Steve Edge Member

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    Those things may be the view of this forum. I too agree £100K cannot be the sole reason for postponing any change. There are other fair reasons provided. Out of interest, can you shed light on the "experience elsewhere" which was identical to the WSR's situation? I say again that the delay in change was a great disappointment to me. I thought we were on that road then the blocks went up.

    I disagree with your last paragraph and I stand by what I wrote earlier about the expectations of some volunteers.

    Steve
    wsr.org.uk
     
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  5. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    All very well, but many of us here have become convinced that the PLC's decisions over the last few years almost guarantee failure. The huge financial hole has become apparent and there is no evidence of any plan to fill it other than by appealing for donations; and those are coming in far too slowly because so many fear that they would be thowing good money after bad. Although the PLC has not (AFAIK) stated explicitly its absolute permanent opposition to a new structure where it would be answerable to a charitable parent, it has made very clear that it will countenance no such change any time soon; and it collaborated with the WSRHT to penalise a few individuals who sought such change. The PLC may be "the only game in town" but from all we see on here it is a game in which all players will lose.
     
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  6. RailWest

    RailWest Part of the furniture

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    Particularly ironic in the case of Watchet, which at one time had a very nice 3-story B&ER box sadly demolished :-(
     
  7. Bayard

    Bayard Part of the furniture

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    Observations to the power of four: 2) Well, yes, but why have they decided to do this? It seems to be a decision that only has downsides. 3) I wasn't expecting the WSR to have magically realised that the Guardian was writing about a collective in Watchet, it's more that the Guardian mentioned the railway without mentioning there was anything special about it, which suggests that it was neither mentioned, nor noticed that it is a steam railway. Journalists are usually keen to add local detail in where they can, anything that might interest their readers. As for the previous time I was disappointed reading an article, I can only remember the disappointment as I haven't been keeping a record, I'm not that obsessed. 4) I am not sure what I can say to the publicity person apart from the fact that, from where I am sitting, their efforts look a tad underwhelming, which is about as useful as suggesting they pull their socks up. It is often possible to see when something is wrong without having the faintest idea how to put it right, apart from what I've already suggested, which looks like it has been tried and discontinued. 5) The problem is that it seems that the future overhaul is being used as an excuse to do nothing in the short term. The West Somerset long grass is getting rather full of balls.
    On the subject of the Onion Collective, have you heard of any initiative from the Railway to link up with them? Anyone who can wring such an enormous sum of money from this government is definitely worth getting to know as well as for their common ground in the voluntary sector.
     
  8. Steve Edge

    Steve Edge Member

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    On point (2) the Co/Plc have always done this. It is not a new decision. On point (3) Perhaps we can agree that the lack of mention of WSR by name in the article was not because the Plc's publicity guys were asleep. On point (4), I wasn't suggesting you tell 'em how to fix anything, just tell 'em what you think is wrong. It really is that simple. On point (5) you might say that but is it so incredibly vital to right those wrong things on the website, or is it more important to fill those festive train seats? I think the latter is the priority.

    On the Onions, I'm sure the Plc and the Onions have made contact and I'm sure if it suited the Onions they'd be keen to work together. Beyond knowing they have received grants, what else do you know about them?

    Steve
    wsr.org.uk
     
  9. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Picking two points out of this:

    On The Platform: People seem to have reacted quite favourably to the design of "The Bluebell Times". So here's a little secret: it's a straight Microsoft newsletter template. The only thing I tweaked was the colour scheme to make it into our house colours. The point being, these days you can produce quite attractive material relatively easily: BT is produced using nothing more sophisticated than Microsoft Word. (I'm sure if you wanted a more native web format for a newsletter, @D1039 could offer advice).

    You can also do it quickly. The first lockdown was announced I believe on 23 March 2020, and we had Issue 1 of The Bluebell Times out a week later, on 30 March 2020; and then produced an issue fortnightly until the railway re-opened in August at which point we moved to monthly.

    What does surprise me about The Platform is that it seems, as far as I can see, to be produced and edited by @FrankC who is a Board member. Which is admirable, but doing the minutiae of editing and production feels like a poor use of a board member's time. Is there not a single volunteer with access to a word processor and an amount of spare time? I'm not for a moment suggesting that the board should distance themselves from the publication, but their role should really be in enabling and approving; the heavy lifting of production, editing and so on is something eminently suited to a volunteer. I've noted before that I think that the WSR plc board has been too small to adequately cover the breadth of issues in running. heritage railway business, but one way to alleviate that to some degree is to at least delegate the kinds of things that can be delegated, leaving the board to concentrate on what can't be delegated, i.e. accountability for the operation of a sustainable railway.

    On the website: that is a major undertaking (And there I have some professional expertise, having been involved, in one way or another, with web design, development and operations throughout my entire career, from the very early days of the web). One bit of advice I'd give: treat it as an iterative process, not a project with set deliverables. If you do the latter, you might well end up with the website you want, but almost certainly not the one you need.

    Tom
     
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  10. Pete Thornhill

    Pete Thornhill Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Moderator Friend

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    The platform exposes a common theme of the board - a lack of ability to delegate things others would.
     
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  11. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    But that is really the story of the WSR under the current board - devoting vast amounts of time to things that are moderately important but not critical (as well as plenty of trivial and pointless things) at the expense of things that are critical.

    However, given that their attitude towards sharing news is that of a dysfunctional hermit state, I am not surprised, it reflects an excessive desire to control information and to leverage it for cache and status rather than as something to be shared. 'I know, you don't, therefore I am important and you are not, but if you knock three times, do the special handshake and say the special password, I might tell you but only if you bow down and tug your forelock first.'
     
  12. D1039

    D1039 Well-Known Member

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    SVRLive, and the e-newsletters that are published on it, is a (free, I think, or very cheap) standard Wix website. It has its limitations. A policy decision before my time was not to use word or PDF docs and not to host the enthusiast/stakeholder information on the main site.

    I'm a volunteer co-editor on the newsletters and we've another volunteer who now leads on 'doing the minutiae of production'. The other co-editor is the marketing and communications manager so we've a link into the board, but board members' time is limited to input on particular articles.

    (You can also do it quickly. In practice the editorial team of four have a meeting in advance of the publication date and we decide the themes and content we intend to cover. We then divvy out the articles between us, so it's partly paid and partly unpaid editorial. The volunteers then load it. The manager's ultimately responsible and gets the final read through, but we've worked out a way that they've a lighter touch with much of the editorial and the production being done by the rest of us.)

    On the main website, thankfully I'm not involved! It too has paid and volunteer input. My voluntary input's been limited to a monthly surf through the site to highlight broken links or missing, contradictory or out of date content. The SVR too is getting a new website and it's been some time in gestation, but one result is the current site has had less work in recent months as they prepare to move over.

    I'd have thought most larger railways could effectively use volunteers' time on newsletters and web.

    Kudos to @Jamessquared for The Bluebell Times, and to @Steve Edge for wsr.org; I tried and failed for three years to get people on the SVR to use SVRLive to do the news things that wsr.org does.

    Patrick
     
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  13. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    Plus, Patrick, you also have the excellent SVR forum online.
     
  14. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    And so far as The Bluebell is concerned, it is arguable that a few years ago it's official website - well what shall we say - didn't accurately tell why Bulleid Pacific 'Sir Archibald Sinclair' was withdrawn after it's restoration. Phones were ringing and emails exchanged! So I don't think that the WSR plc's 'The Platform' by the pen of Frank Courtney is without precedent. Others will no doubt recall other examples of 'managed' control of internet 'publicity'.
     
  15. Bayard

    Bayard Part of the furniture

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    2) Just because the Plc have always done this doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. If they did involve volunteers then 5) wouldn't be an either/or choice. Because volunteers who are geographically distant form the railway could sort out the website thanks to the magic of the internet, doing this wouldn't cut into the time of those arranging the festive offering. Point 3) on further reflection I think that the fact that the reporter was aware of the railway, and not just in Watchet, either, as they knew about the signal boxes, which are no longer a common feature of rural railway lines on the main network, and not aware that it was a preserved line does suggest that something had gone wrong. It could be that someone's had their feathers ruffled. On the subject of the Collective, no, I know no more than what I have read in the article, I was wondering if you had heard anything for definite.
     
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  16. Bayard

    Bayard Part of the furniture

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    By chance, I have just stumbled across the email which I sent to the WSR about the previous time I was disappointed in finding no mention of the railway:
    "Hi, coincidentally, at the same time that this email arrived in my inbox, so did one from Holiday Cottages, which included a link to www.holidaycottages.co.uk/blog/guide-to-british-beaches?campaignkw=GBO&_linkgroups=coastal . Sadly, although some of the beaches mentioned are served by the WSR, the railway didn't get a mention, nor was it mentioned on "Things to do in Somerset". Perhaps an email to them might be in order?
    So not exactly the MSM, my memory was at fault. However, compiling a list of holiday let companies that cover West Somerset and dropping them a line about the railway would seem to me to be pretty high on the list of any publicity bod's priorities.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  17. 5914

    5914 Member

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    From my own experience I have been involved in the restructuring of several charities. These include:
    - rewriting the constitution, and then providing draft memorandum and articles for a group registering as a charity and later incorporating as a CLG;
    - registering a group as a CIO (this group having since been successful in fulfilling its objectives by working in partnership at departmental government level);
    - restructuring a charity, including obtaining a new charitable scheme from the Charity Commission (resulting in a broadening of its charitable activity), re-organisation of assets (with a resultant fourfold increase in the capacity of the charity to meet charitable objectives);
    - similar work with a different charity with a £20m asset base to update its governance arrangements (including revised trustee arrangements); and
    - working on the reorganisation of capital items between a charity and its operating company and other group entities to enable more efficient use of assets, and the protection of historic assets, leading to release of funds to allow a 10-year capital investment plan.

    In only one of these cases did the costs incurred reach five figures, and some were done with three figure fees (or at zero cost) thanks to good working relationships with professionals willing to support charitable activities with which they had sympathy. As mentioned elsewhere, I did contact WSR last year and did not get any response to an offer to assist.

    Given my experience (and the WSR reaction - or perhaps better put as 'non-reaction' - to an offer of assistance/advice) I simply can't fathom how the costs quoted stack up - unless they are merely taking the maximum figure using professional advice at its full rate.
     
  18. Pete Thornhill

    Pete Thornhill Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Moderator Friend

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    Trouble is that if you don’t want the change to happen, maybe you don’t look too hard for a way to achieve that goal…
     
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  19. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    I am sure tat if the PLC WANTED to change it could happen, the fact is that is doesn't so wont.

    I amawaiting the news that The Recievers have been called in
     
  20. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Just to observe that the article is clear that the interviewees made the reference to signal boxes as inspiration, albeit not as a direct quote.


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