Interview: Sarah Courbet

We ask the committee member of the Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery how she revolutionised communications at the small local charity in Birmingham

Sarah Courbet
Sarah Courbet

With her mother as chair, it was natural for Sarah Courbet to become involved in the Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery in Birmingham. She became passionate about conserving the Grade II listed graveyard, with its Gothic-style mortuary chapels and stunning funerary monuments, close to her home. She is now a committee member and one of two webmasters.

Brandwood End CemeteryThe cemetery is Victorian, but after a recent revamp the charity's communications are anything but historic. It had a website for some years, but it was "clunky", says Courbet, and complicated to update. She felt it would be easier to blog to get its message out, which would also improve the website's Google ranking. Although she works in marketing and says she knows a lot about social media, Courbet was not sure how to do this until she heard of the Social Media Surgery. At these free events, which bring together people who have web expertise and those who need help to get organisations online, Courbet learnt about WordPress.

"I started to use it for blogging and was so inspired we got funding to revamp the whole website on the WordPress platform," she says.

The surgeries, established by Birmingham entrepreneur Nick Booth in 2008, have proved so popular that they are now held in 60 locations around the UK with nearly 400 volunteer 'surgeons' helping about 1,700 local groups and active citizens take advantage of the internet to support their causes. The initiative was given a Big Society Award by the Prime Minister last month.

The informal surgeries match aspiring social networkers of all abilities with experts who are able to give them relevant advice. Courbet has returned to the surgeries to refresh her knowledge and get more ideas - she's even taken her mother, who is in her 70s, to learn about Flickr.

"Complete beginners can go along," she says. "Your level of understanding does not matter because everyone is so enthusiastic. If it goes over my head, they bring it down to the right level."

Brandwood End Cemetery's websiteArmed with her new knowledge, Courbet made a Wikipedia entry about the cemetery, created a Flickr page, set up an e-petition and established an Amazon link on the charity's website to raise funds.

"The work I have done since going to the surgeries has helped to raise our profile," she says. "People who would not normally contact us have been able get in touch, write comments on our site and engage with us. We have raised money through the Amazon link and the social media will have contributed to our membership.

"It is now easier to update the website, which saves us a huge amount of time. It has opened up new audiences for us and we engage with other local community organisations online."

Courbet's next challenge is to increase the younger membership.

"I don't understand people who pooh-pooh social media," she says. "It is just another form of communication and it's not scary. Social media is great because it is free. It does not cost to blog or have a presence on Facebook or LinkedIn. It's a great way for small charities with limited money to raise their profiles, increase their membership or raise money.

"I really recommend the surgeries. People always go away with so much enthusiasm."

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