The history of BelfordWEB and North Northumberland Online
This website started life as BelfordWEB, back in summer 1997, and was featured in an article in the Berwick Advertiser (shown below) in September of that year. This publicity got the site off to a great start and soon it was the talk of the village.
To put matters into perspective, the BBC only officially launched its own website a few months later — in December 1997. So this was a terrific opportunity for Belford to have its own presence online, at a time when hardly anywhere or anyone else did and few people had the skills. I did have... I was the former features editor of a national technology magazine based in London and in 1992 had moved back to Belford where I worked from home as a freelance journalist.
Back then, the World Wide Web was very much smaller than it is now. Visitors flocked to BelfordWEB and raved about features like the clickable map of the village (left), which was cutting edge stuff at the time. The site began hosting the 1995 Belford Village Survey and a school in Belford, New Jersey used the site in its geography lessons.
As so few people had an internet connection, I sent out a printed newsletter about the site occasionally (shown right). While some ordinary villagers were very enthusiastic, there was resentment and bitterness in other quarters because I hadn't asked "permission"! I would like to thank the handful of forward-thinking small businesses that advertised — including Belford Craft Gallery and the Farmhouse Guest House.
Back in 1997 running a website was expensive. For the first few years BelfordWEB didn't cover its basic costs, let alone any of the time spent on it. It has never been about making a lot of money. But at the very least it needed to cover running costs.
After four years of struggling along (partly relying on the generosity of friends in the IT business) I decided to revamp the site to cover the whole region a bit more equally. It was renamed North Northumberland Online and the main colour scheme (which had been dark green) was changed.
In the early days of the web, designers were advised to stick to a palette of just 216 "web-safe" colours, so coming up with something attractive for the revamped site was quite a challenge. But inspiration was drawn from the surroundings, with pages in terracotta, blue, sand and stone.
Almost immediately this met with greater success and Google Adsense brought an extra source of income from a wider area. For many years the site continued to prioritise Belford, with unique coverage of events, photography, video and free DVDs and IT advice for local people. Just as in the 1980s I had given locals free A4-sized black and white prints of my photographs of the Carnival and made videos of village stage productions.
There can be no doubt that over the years BelfordWEB and North Northumberland Online brought in many tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of pounds worth of economic prosperity to Belford and the immediate area. Yet it didn't seem to be appreciated by local businesses (in terms of placing ads on the site), the parish council or others.
By 2008 the page about Belford had long since disappeared from the tourist board's official "Visit Northumberland" website. No one else produced a site dedicated to Belford until 2009. By which time many opportunities had been missed and it was hard to make any impact online. That one disappeared when the funding ran out. Now (2017) there is a "throw some money, build a quick site, and they will come" attitude. But it's too late for that.
The village was wired for broadband around 2004. Less than a year after part of Manchester city centre and much earlier than other rural parts of the UK. But it was another missed opportunity because the village dictators still didn't "get it." In 2011 The Belford Development Trust and a popular monthly magazine called On Your Doorstep disappeared amid rows with the parish council.
In my opinion all of this goes some way to explain why Belford is in its current state of decline.
By 2011, after almost a decade-and-a-half, I felt I'd given Belford more than a good chance here on NNOuk.com and that it was time to change focus. The content and future direction of the site were reviewed and so was the design. Due to faster connections and wider screens another make-over was in order.
These days people access North Northumberland Online in ways that would have been considered science fiction back in 1997! They use a range of devices including smartphones and tablets. Every page was rewritten and freshly-coded. Links were added for sharing pages on Facebook and Twitter and there were more photographs, in larger sizes. However, the tried and trusted colour scheme from a decade earlier was retained.
Nest cameras were a new introduction in 2015 and returned the following year with some terrific recordings of a wren's nest.
In 2016 the design was made "responsive" — to provide a better experience on tablets and phones (quite a task!) — and the photography store launched, selling prints and canvases.
The Belford Archive is another new section. It gives access to the high-quality original photo and video material that I have shot from 1980 to date. Currently it's a password-protected area for a limited audience.
Currently (September 2017) the site is celebrating its 20th birthday and I've decided this is probably a good moment to call it a day as far as promoting the area is concerned. Over coming months the website may have a different name and focus, but you will still find something at the address NNOuk.com.