AGS Local Groups: Local Group Websites
Started by: Robert AmosGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 26 October 2012, 13:05. Go to bottom of this page.
Like many people I am a firm believer of the view that an organisation needs an online presence if it is to survive in the modern day. The AGS is evidence of this; an ever-increasing number of people join via the website. This principle (for want of another word) applies to local groups just as much if not more so.
One of the main benefits we have over other large societies such as the SRGC is the ability to host a Group website on the main AGS website. Some groups have taken full advantage of this. Although they might not be as flash as independent websites, these mini-sites are clear, accessible and informative and have the notable advantage of the Society handling all of the technical 'stuff'. Simply saying when and where you meet, what your programme is and how to get in touch would be enough to encourage new members to visit your Group. A website like this would only need updating once a year ? hardly a major commitment.
A minority of groups have developed an independent website, which has allowed them to be more adventurous with what they put on their. For the Bedfordshire Group I have tried to make the website more than just an advert and am always encouraging the members to send in their contributions. The late John Morris was a great supporter and in addition to several articles on various subjects he also wrote two garden diaries. Last year I also introduced the 'Plant Files', which contains basic information a variety of alpines. Websites such as this are more of a commitment, but are well worth the effort for groups willing to give it a go.
Having assisted Jim with a workshop on setting up Local Group websites back in 2009 I know that there is the enthusiasm out there for groups to have their own website. I don't think it would be overly optimistic to hope that every Group could have an online presence by the end of next year, whether it is an independent website or a site hosted by the AGS website. I am interested to hear other members' thoughts on this and how we might achieve this goal.
"One of the main benefits we have over other large societies such as the SRGC is the ability to host a Group website on the main AGS website."
Robert, why would you imagine that it is only the AGS that has such a capacity?
When I was looking on the SRGC website today I couldn't find SRGC group websites. I found the links to Group programmes and newsletters, but not 'mini-sites'.
The Hardy Plant Society sort of has something similar, but it is more of an information page about each local group rather than a website. The Birmingham and Chesterfield Groups are good examples of what could be achieved, although these would require more of a commitment to run. Others, such as the Warwickshire Group's, are more in line with the HPC and are relatively easy to maintain. I think the AGS mini-sites are a more accessible and welcoming format than just a flat page however.
Robert - I have been quite surprised that the website has been such a primary way of attracting new members, but maybe that is naive of me. Unfortunately it doesn't filter through in a way that really stimulates the Groups. There seems something very curious that so few people join when they actually see plants and can buy them at a Show or Garden Openings (ie: the actual reality of seeing the plants!) and yet they are tempted by the images on the web! Do they become longer term members? Having said this I agree with you strongly that the web is very important, probably especially for the Groups, and so much depends on the individual people who are involved in running the sites (we have a marvellous and meticulous webmaster for the Kent HPS Group for example and this has a definite knock on effect in the way the whole Group is run - it helps consolidate all of the activities and give an image to the Group).
From what I have said before it will be obvious that I would like the image of the AGS to become less centred on exhibiting and judging because I am not personally so inspired by this and I think it may well inhibit gardeners joining to some extent, even while at the same time maintaining a level of excellence that must be very stimulating for many present members. I still think that the AGS website is very much more strongly centred on the present membership than it is on really presenting the AGS to a new generation of gardeners and I do apologise if this doesn't go down too well, but it must be obvious that I am slightly out on a limb!
The NARGS and SRGC sites are certainly very different and your earlier comment that this is a good thing (something that David Nicholson also mentioned) is true of course because each Society has its own strong identity. Non-the-less each site has the potential for very useful and stimulating discussion and sharing of ideas and so far this has been less true of the AGS site.
I think part of the reason why the website so has been so successful in recruiting new members is because people visit it after they have been to a show. I usually spend a few hours on the book and publicity stands at the shows I go to and could probably count on one hand the number of members I actually signed up this year. However there were many more people who said they were keen and would look at the website. There are probably a variety of reasons why people do not join up at the shows; maybe it?s because they are not totally convinced until they see the website, or maybe they simply do not have the means to pay with them at the show.
I agree that the AGS is not all about the shows, but they are one of our best assets and are the best places to attract new members. Unfortunately it is hard to promote alpines in gardens from a school hall. Jo Walker did a very entertaining demonstration on building hypertufa sinks at the Malvern Show this year; maybe we could run something similar at all of the shows and use it to promote the other aspects of alpines and the Society.
The website is the other place to do this, especially in the discussion forum. Unfortunately the SRGC forum has effectively cornered the market and I see little point in trying to compete. There is, however, scope for taking the AGS forum in a different direction.
The garden diaries are one possibility and I would love to see more diaries from across the UK and abroad as well, talking about what is being grown where, how successfully, what problems have been encountered and if and how they have been solved. The differences would (hopefully!) promote discussion between people who have had similar experiences with their own gardens. Although this of course requires volunteers with the passion, time and subject matter.
Robert, you are correct, the SRGC site does not have any "mini-sites " for local groups..... but that does not mean that there is no capacity for such, as you implied: rather it has been that no local group has requested a site. So far the groups have seemed content with the programme and newsletter posting that exists. There is the opportunity for any or all groups to have and maintain their own "space" on the site if they want.
You are quite correct about the capacity of a website to attract members. Five out of every six new SRGC Members come via the website.
Robert - I am with you very much on this. The NARGS and SRGC sites certainly encouraged me to get on and grow more alpines in the garden and because all our situations are different the idea of Garden Diaries (or for that matter diaries on growing plants to Show) are really good. I have enjoyed reading John and Diane's diaries even though my climate and interests down in Kent are rather different. I think it taps in to what a garden really is, an ongoing and changing experience. More limited detail not placed in context, as often comes across on the discussion sections, can become a little pedantic and only aimed at a few fellow enthusiasts.
I am sure you are right that many people join online after visiting Shows; I would like to think the same could be true after visiting our various gardens too and for this reason I would like to see these featured more on the website at the point at which it is first accessed (maybe something like 'Garden of the Month'). The gardens featured in the online Show could be described in greater detail for example - what are the plants grown on Jon Evan's crevice bed? or in Michael and Caryl Baron's wonderful garden? Some of these will no doubt be described in the Bulletin and this would provide an easy way of placing more information on the web too.
Hi Margaret - I am curious though to why SRGC groups have not asked for a site. Is it because the groups have had success with just having the newsletters and programmes online, because there have not been any volunteers to run the sites or another reason? From the conversations I have had with members from AGS groups without a website the two main reasons were a) not knowing where to begin and b) no one was willing to take the job on.
The 'Garden of the Month' is a really good idea Tim and would build on an existing part of the website. We could also introduce something similar at the shows. As well as having Jon Evans' superb photos, we could have photographic displays focussed on peoples' gardens and how alpines have been incorporated into them. It could give show-goers a better idea of the other aspects of the AGS.
Robert, I am at a loss to know why no groups have taken up the chance of their own website. Some have made a stab at it on other gardening sites, in hopes of widening their audience "beyond the converted" (so to speak) but these have not been kept up to date and so haven't had any real impact. I think there is a feeling that the website listing are useful for checking meetings but that local groups seeking to improve their membership numbers can do more in that direction at local level. Of course, those jopining via the website specify a local group if they wish to join one in their area. So very many SRGC members are overseas or distant from a group that the website is their "natural" home, the Forum acting in effect as a "group" for them.
Margaret makes a very powerful point here about the great importance of the website and forum to overseas members, and indeed in connecting members here in the UK more with enthusiasts overseas. The online 'International Rock Gardener' on the SRGC site is quite a revelation to me, and it is exciting to have contact with so many famous names in the world of alpine growing in such a direct way. I find it very inspiring.
The AGS website clearly has a different emphasis but it could still begin to draw out more the individual enthusiasms of members in a way that might have a stronger appeal to non-members. Probably these things will happen steadily with other changes running through the Society, and as and when members really press for them. The real excitement of gardening comes from doing new things, and convincing other gardeners of this too.
I spent quite a bit of time last year getting the South Devon Local Group's Web Site up and running but in spite of my "plugging" it at each and every Group meeting it didn't appear to impact on member's consciences at all.
I introduced a "Plants of the Month" section with the intention of persuading members to send me images of what they were growing and I would do the necessary to put them on the Site, my intention being that it might then result in more members actually looking at the Site and then, perhaps, getting them to move on the main AGS Site. Result: only one member actually provided me with some images and the rest of the time I used my own. I've deleted them all now in order to make the Section relevant to the year in question but I have to say my enthusiasm has waned somewhat.
David, I think the conclusion we have to come too is that relatively few people within the Groups ever actually make the running! Partly this must be because many Groups are relatively small and it can become virtually impossible to find new people to get involved in running them. I suspect that in time the AGS Groups may need to merge and become larger and with more people involved and more enthusiasm the websites become more relevant to everyone. From a personal point of view I sometimes wonder why I devote so much time and thought to the AGS and our Groups when I should be using it in promoting my own garden and nursery. The answer of course is that I have always got so much out of being involved with the AGS and I am really keen that other gardeners should sense this too. Hence the websites should be strongly aimed at gardeners outside the AGS, and to get such people to look at them in the first place we need to do things like opening our gardens and making a big thing of the Shows and plant sales.
I suspect like most enterprises it is certain individuals coming together that make things move, simply because they work in the same direction!
Was planning a visit to our local rhs garden (hyde hall)checked website for details. By joining before our visit had free entry so with other benefits was advantagous to join. At the plant sales was local AGS group (essex)took home leaflets etc went on AGS website and here i am. regards Alan Short
Hello Alan - welcome to the AGS! We have done something similar with our Garden Safari in Kent by offering FREE membership to our Local Group for the first year (although our gardens can't quite compare with Hyde Hall!). We do make links with significant local gardens in the same way. Good to hear what another group is doing.
I think it needs to be recognised that many people are wary of running a website. If you aren't familiar with the internet and the associate technology it can seem quite daunting. Without being ageist, as the AGS, like many garden societies has an older membership, there is I presume a smaller number of people enthused by updating websites. I would also say that it is more fustrating to discover a website for a group only to discover it is never updated like my local horticultural society's. Also many groups have their own internal communication between members which works well for them and although they all want to attract new members it maybe that they dont see a website as a good vehicle for attracting new members.
I am all for updated and interesting website but I work on computers all day and write a blog so the internet etc isnt a strange place for me. I think that with time more people who are comfortable with the internet will come along and this will probably be the approach more groups take
I am sure you are right Helen and it all depends on how much we think the Internet will play an important part in organising the Groups and the Society in the future. It probably works better for bigger garden groups like our HPS Group in Kent which does a lot of things and has a superb and well organised webmaster who has a good overview of the whole programme. Such people are few and far between but really help integrate how Societies run. If the different aspects of the AGS in different areas were integrated more (ie: Shows, Gardens, Groups, Events) this would be a more effective way of making more comprehensive and attractive websites - some Groups do this already and especially larger ones like Ulster, so there are some good models to learn from. What we have found though is that we may need to do something quite radically different to actually stimulate any significant number of new and younger members - so far we don't know what or how to do this or whether it has any chance of success, but it links with opening our gardens and promoting the regional Show more effectively, in other words trying to raise the profile of the Society as much as we can.