All about us – a little bit of history about this site

1990 – From humble beginnings!!!

As you can see GMWRAG members have always taken a keen interest in technology and how it can assist or hinder us in our purpose. Please do read through the document we’ve attached to the link above. You’ll find no mention of social networking and, amusingly, no mention of even the concept of a web site. How the times change!

2002 – The start of GMWRAG on the web

The original web site at http://www.gmwrag.org.uk was developed in association with students Saima Ali, Savinderjeet Notay, Anita Ray and Reena Vora, from the University of Manchester, as part of a dissertation project. The objective was to improve information distribution and raise the profile of GMWRAG. This web site was put together following a comprehensive assessment of the needs of GMWRAG members and consultation about whether they wanted or needed a web site.

Students were recruited through an advert placed on behalf of GMWRAG in the Community Exchange Scheme Recruitment Newsletter run by the University of Manchester. The scheme enables employers to identify discrete bits of project work and current students to match themselves to that work to their mutual benefit.

Our students rapidly identified themselves and put together a proposal and lots of complicated looking charts. Lots of customer consultation followed and the site itself went through a number of draft versions before being presented via a PowerPoint presentation to the March 2002 meeting of GMWRAG in Manchester for further comments.

It’s interesting to note now that one aspect of the site which was suggested but never developed was a section for the Greater Manchester Principal Welfare Rights Officers group to store their agendas, minutes and so on. Perhaps a time will come for this to be re-visited although it does hark bark to the dim and distant time when Principal Officer actually turned up en masse to GMWRAG meetings!

The project site was temporarily hosted at http://les1.man.ac.uk/accounting/gmwrag/home.htm but went ‘live’ for testing by the project group on the 4th of April 2002 and then actually live for the whole world on the 10th of April 2002. We were made aware of this at 18:32pm via email and this was rapidly followed by training for several GMWRAG members to enable updating and maintenance of the site. A copy of the original, comprehensive training and updating manual is available for the terminally curious and if you fancy recreating the original site from scratch we were even gifted a backup on CD plus zip file software and some very comprehensive HTML training material.

We said farewell to our students in May 2002 with heartfelt words (and some flowers) and a cheque for £126.52, which covered the creation of the web site from start to finish but in reality was mostly the cost of the reports the students needed outlining what they had achieved. The consensus was that this was good value for money.

Terry, Reena, Saima, Anita, Savinderjeet, Mike

Terry, Reena, Saima, Anita, Savinderjeet, Mike

“Creating this web site from scratch has been an immense learning experience for us. We hope this web site will be of great use and fulfill the vision that GMWRAG presented us with. We would like to thank Terry and Mike for their time and commitment into the project; they have been excellent project supervisors to us.”
Saima, Savinderjeet, Anita and Reena.

‘Already young and talented, the dynamic ones who created the GMWRAG web site are soon set to embark on careers of vast riches and creature comforts… thank you and good luck!”

Terry Patterson, Manchester Advice

“A welcome addition to exchanging local knowledge on benefits and practice. Having ready access to the dates of the next meetings as well as having access to minutes of previous meetings should enable a greater participation in the group. None of this would have been possible without our friends at the University of course. Thank you!”
Kurt Kleinschmidt, Tameside WRS

“I would like to see the whole of GMWRAG area people using and contributing to the pages at frequent intervals.”
Patrick Hill.

Unlike now, the original site could be found at http://www.gmwrag.org. Publicity mostly involved the ancient art of writing to people we knew and an email to those who had an actual email address. This produced a positive reaction and many reminiscences.

“Thanks very much for sending this. It’s a good site. I will circulate this to Welfare Rights Caseworkers in Blackburn with Darwen. We hope to arrange for at least one Caseworker to attend GMWRAG meetings regularly.”
Kevin Cutts, Darwen Advice Centre Manager.

The GMWRAG web site was then updated for a number of years by a small number of hardy souls using either Microsoft FrontPage or FTP software. This often proved a big challenge for the team doing the updating as we couldn’t always get the software available to us in work and were therefore having to do this on our own time and on 56K modems. This was not yet the era of broadband and so we concentrated on posting the basic details about GMWRAG meetings – the when and where of the next meeting; an agenda and minutes of the last meeting. This could often take a long time to complete such were the vagaries of the internet at the time.

2009 – A year of big change

The original site lasted until early 2009 when the culmination of work undertaken by staff from Salford Welfare Rights Service led to the commissioning of a redesigned site by Alan Markey who had previously been responsible for the NAWRA site. This brought the site up to date stylistically and improved site navigation to bring it more into line with modern expectations. It included the rather wonderful logo below which we have regrettably had to ditch since moving to this blog.

GMWRAG logo by Alan Markey

As with all technology, matters have moved on apace, Kurt of Tameside Welfare Rights Service and Mike from Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service did considerable research on their own time to explore what options might be available for the creation and hosting of a revised site.  The answer at the time was not as clear cut as it looks now. It was very much a case of knowing what we didn’t want rather than what we did (that being mostly not having to use HTML)!

After Mike drafted a new version of the site you see before you now, the October 2009 meeting of GMWRAG approved the move to the blog site you are currently viewing. This enables members to contribute articles, details about events and meetings in a timely manner appropriate to the increasingly fast moving world of welfare rights advice.

2010 – New directions

In September 2010 GMWRAG branched out beyond the cosy world of our web site and opened a Twitter account called @GMWRAGtweets. The account mostly repeats the information and updates we post on the site for the convenience of those happier using social networks as a primary source of information. We have more followers on Twitter than we have subscribers to this site and we have been as diligent as we can be in weeding out spammers and bots. Occasionally you will find us engaging in discussions with other advisers, organisations and even members of the public seeking advice. Very occasionally we’ll have a bit of fun too. Our latest posts appear on the right side of every page on this site for those people who can’t be bothered using social networks but who nevertheless want to know what we’re up to.

2011From strength to strength

The site regularly added posts on a variety of welfare benefits related subjects and tried to avoid replicating information you could already get from elsewhere.

In May 2011 we pushed out further than Twitter and entered the strange (to us) new world of Facebook. We use this as we use the former, to update those happy using social networks as a primary source of information.

2012 – Strength in adversity

In early 2012 the pace of welfare reform is accelerating like never before. At the same time spending cuts mean more is demanded for less and non-statutory services are to some extent in retreat including many which affect our members.

The site however continues to go from strength to strength as we celebrate our tenth year on the web. Not only do we absorb the entire web site of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Group but we start to add further value to their existing resources. We also added an archive to properly document the full history of GMWRAG for the first time and create a jobs page for the first time rather than just add posts in an ad hoc style as we have done previously.

At the end of 2012 we also add a section of the site exclusively for Access 2 Advice.

For the first time the site also allows GMWRAG members to update it from

  • most net browsers like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. If you can access the web from a mobile phone it can even be done from there just by logging on to WordPress.
  • a Blackberry via a specific downloadable application.
  • Apple iPhones via a specific downloadable application.
  • Emailing a post in from any email account – although in order to use this facility we will need confirmation that you’re emailing from either a corporate email account (such as a local authority) or from a home or business email address that has up to date anti-virus, malware and firewall protection.

We also managed to get our head rounds how to get videos working on the site without having to pay to host them ourselves and this has proved a great boon in the years since. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal. We were just being a bit dim.

Since October 2009 the GMWRAG site has become home to an increasingly large repository of useful information and has clearly become an important port of call for advisers in the Greater Manchester, North West of England and North Wales area as is borne out by our monthly statistics since we started. The site continues to attract at least 300 visitors per month even when we haven’t posted any new information. However, the more we post, the more you read and January 2015 is now the most successful month in the history of the GMWRAG web site and whilst the 30th of January 2014 remains our most successful day. In fact it’s a rare month when there are less than 700 views of the GMWRAG web site.

GMWRAG monthly stats to January 2013

If you would like to know more about the specific of updating this blog we have a WordPress Overview Pack available to view now. This provides you with the basic info. to create pages, posts, links, insert images and add and link to documents like minutes and agendas. It doesn’t give you logon details.

2014 – Further expansion

Towards the end of 2014 we added 2 new (but low key) sections of self-help resources for clients and some resources for advisers specifically in the North West. We’re hoping to expand this but it’s entirely dependent on what we are alerted to.