The Ashbourne News Telegraph carried the news this week of an innovative project to bring the Town’s history to life by dotting landmarks with bar codes. The QR codes will allow smartphone users to scan the code and get an instant link to a web page describing the location. Have a look at the website here http://www.ourashbourne.co.uk/ This is another fabulous piece of work by Ashbourne Partnership, and Sarah Wolfe in particular, to try to add another dimension to Ashbourne.
It got me thinking. History is great, and something we should be proud of, but it also carries a connotation of “those were the days”. There is a danger of slipping into being proud of the past and overlooking the need to create meaningful new history. In my opinion the Conservation Area in Ashbourne, with its 710 buildings, is a bureaucratic millstone for the town in its current formulation. The late Michael Winner used the word “historic” to describe a magnificent dessert rather than something pickled in a jar and I rather prefer his interpretation.
In a previous blog I highlighted the importance of being aware of a Town’s strengths and weaknesses and I gave the example of Beverley in East Yorkshire as a town which seems to be continually monitoring its performance and adjusting accordingly. The objective is to emphasise strengths, exploit opportunities, address weaknesses and mitigate threats to become a stronger and more competitive town. All of this takes place against a backdrop of Council budget cuts and High Street challenges…we need to change or decline but there’s no money to pay for it! Under these circumstances you can make progress and make lots of little changes that improve the situation but, unfortunately, this only has the major impact if all the little actions are coordinated – and most public bodies think in terms of election or budget cycles – not Generations.
Alternatively you can take a revolutionary approach and change the game.
What if Ashbourne took the lead from Our Ashbourne and embraced low-cost internet technology and at the same time exploited social media to the full? What groundbreaking undertaking could the Ashbourne Partnership project be part of rather than being a great end in itself?
We already have a number of smaller initiatives:
1. The QR Code project
2. A Smartphone App offering a trail round the town with clues
3. Free Wifi in a number of cafes and bars
4. Successful and extensive on-line businesses – Pachacuti, Guitars4U and Modelrailwayloft
5. Retailers exploiting Google Streetmap to offer virtual tours of their premises – see The Olive Tree.
So there is money around but it is having to be spent by individuals rather then being consolidated. The cost of the free wifi, Ashbourne Partnership’s project and the money spend by retailers on their own initiatives with Google will add up to tens of thousands of pounds which potentially is only giving the town a fragmented benefit.
Imagine if Ashbourne joined it all together and positioned itself as the UK’s model “cybertown”. For very little investment a revolution could bring us huge PR and really boost the High Street and tourism industries at a stroke.
Imagine as a starter that the town centre offered free wifi. All these smartphones being carried along our streets have data limits as part of their packages and some of the telephone signals are shocking. Imagine the footfall in the cafes as businesses and tourists can enjoy a leisurely coffee, breakfast and business meetings while still being connected. I envisage something like you have in airports where you enter your details once in a portal and then have the access you need. Of course, in doing so you have provided superb marketing information which can then be used for advertising and communication.
This free wifi would be linked to a portal which embraced the Ashbourne Partnership’s Visit Ashbourne site so that all visitors could easily access What’s On. It would also embrace things like the Ashbourne News Telegraph’s webcam and any others which are available. It would also provide the interface to the Town’s social media brand -single Facebook and Twitter presences with Community Managers engaged to gather as many followers and friends as possible. So why would the traders who already pay for their wifi and the Ashbourne News Telegraph be willing to be involved? Because they would be able to access the massive audience which a consolidated approach would offer – it would more than offset the competitive advantage they currently have.
Of course you still need to ensure people use the wifi. Once the connection is established on the smartphone it stays there but most people don’t even use the free wifi provision already established. By having a united approach you have a platform which can be used for so much more.
1. The new Kindles have a button to connect to a video link for getting service. Imagine that the portal had a similar button to access tourist information? I’ve mentioned before about the number of people who leave the town because they can’t find what they are looking for.
2. What about adding an update on where there are parking spaces too with links to navigation tools to help drivers find them
3. For people who don’t know the town the entire High Street could be portrayed in a digital way with Google Streetmap interior tours and links to the shop’s e-commerce sites. What about a front page for the portal with the town’s TryAshbourneFirst Deals Of The Day. The retailers could upload their own offers and discount codes.
4. During special events the site could be used to host special forums and live feeds of events such as the Arts Festival or Shrovetide. Insert a GPS transmitter in the Shrovetide balls and you’ve got live coverage around the world!