MICHAEL WELBANK: staying in touch in the digital age

PUBLISHED: 16:06 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 07 September 2010

How best to communicate with the seven million visitors coming to the Heath every year is an issue always under review. The HEATh e-newsletter, launched last week, is a further step in the drive to improve communication. Despite all the work on this front

How best to communicate with the seven million visitors coming to the Heath every year is an issue always under review. The HEATh e-newsletter, launched last week, is a further step in the drive to improve communication. Despite all the work on this front to date, it still needs more attention. The 'HEATh e-newsletter' is a new initiative, others will follow.

Many visitors to the Heath, those who are just thinking about a visit and indeed many local residents are blissfully unaware of what is on offer already even though that offer is pretty extensive. Have a look at the Hampstead Heath website, uk/hampstead and you will find basic information about everything on the Heath plus a range of links to special interest sites; if all this is failing to meet requirements in some way do please comment.

The link to the new HEATh e-newsletter is the first thing you find on the website. This is in 'pdf' format and can be read, downloaded or printed off but the intention is to move on as soon as possible to an automatic subscriber e-mail system. A little further down on the first page there is the link to 'Wildlife Heath happenings' which provides updates on wildlife and the landscape.

The main website concentrates on basic information whereas the e-newsletter will contain views, opinions, comments and insights covering a wide range of issues related to the Heath. The intention is for two editions a year but there is the flexibility to change it quickly to meet new situations or to report on topical issues in the form of e-bulletins. We also hope the e-newsletter will have a strong visual identity and greater topicality than the main website.

The website and newsletter are part of the electronic revolution in communications but, for the Heath, this approach on its own is not enough. Print remains important and indeed in its early days the e-newsletter itself will also be available as hard copy.

The key printed publication is the Hampstead Heath Diary, a 60-page booklet with a 50,000 print run issued every April, and with this number it can be freely given out and just about provides an adequate supply for the whole year. The sponsorship of the diary by Capital Gardens of Highgate is greatly appreciated: it is a treasure trove of information, a valuable reference booklet to all activities on the Heath, and every home should have one.

In addition, a range of printed guidance notes is under way. The first on fishing is already available and there are also maps and reference documents and inevitably the byelaws. Information can also be obtained and queries by email answered by hampstead.heath' or by phone to 020 7332 3322.

The City of London Corporation works in partnership with a wide range of organisations and clubs and all their contact information is listed in the diary. All meetings of the Heath consultative committee and the management committee are open to the public and the reports considered by both these committees can be found through going into the City of London website and then to 'C' in the alphabetical list to reach 'committee reports'.

So never let it be said that there is any shortage of information about what is happening on the Heath either in print or electronic form. The problem is how to ensure that this mountain of information is readily available in a useful and user-friendly way. What is the information visitors would like to have that is not readily available? What are the best ways of presenting this information? What are the defects of the current arrangements? All helpful suggestions on these knotty problems welcomed. Hopefully the launch of the e-newsletter provides an answer to some of these questions and its use will be closely monitored to identify improvements.

An open space the size of the Heath, with such a rich history, fascinating landscape and wealth of natural life, deserves a substantial interpretation or information centre somewhere on the Heath itself. That is what most visitors want and expect. The lack of it is a matter of great regret to the Corporation and this project comes high in the priorities for the future. Meanwhile the best has be made of the facilities that do exist to spread information and understanding, and for that, this monthly column seeks to make a modest contribution.

q Michael Welbank is the

chairman of the Hampstead Heath management committee

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