A Long Thank You Letter
(How the generosity of the Dolls’ Houses Past & Present membership saved our site)
By Brooksey Hardy, DHP&P Administrator and Treasurer
After working well from its inception in 2009, the much-loved original Dolls’ Houses Past & Present website had started to show serious signs of instability by September 2016. Various functions were sometimes available and sometimes not. We got used to the silly “Uh-oh” and “Hmmm...” error messages when pages refused to load, and learned how it was (sometimes) possible to work round them. To begin with, these events occurred randomly, with normal function being restored in between, often for weeks at a time, but these glitches were extremely irritating, and made for a frustrating experience for both members and the four administrators: Rebecca, Zoe, Edel and Brooksey.
Around the same time, our then site host, Webs, was wanting us to move to Sitebuilder 3 (SB3), their “improved” hosting platform. Unfortunately, SB3 didn’t offer all the functions we’d used regularly on the older version, Sitebuilder 2 (SB2). In particular, the type of folders used to create the site’s very popular online magazine would no longer be available. Rebecca, as the then DHP&P site owner, attempted to persuade Webs to offer us a platform more suited to our site’s needs, but, despite a lengthy correspondence, these negotiations proved fruitless. The only concession Webs made was to allow us to continue on SB2, rather than forcing us to move to SB3, which had been their initial position.
By the autumn of 2017, the old site was riddled with problems
SB2 was soon far from satisfactory because Webs fairly quickly stopped supporting it. Within a year, without maintenance and updates, the site became more and more glitch-ridden, some essential functions stopped working altogether, and much of the site became inaccessible to many members, including some of the administrators. Various messages had to be posted on the Home page apologizing for problems. The whole site felt most precarious, and we began to be seriously worried that our huge photographic archive and all the helpful advice on dolls’ houses in the Forums, including useful topics on the identification or restoration of old houses, would be lost. When Rebecca enquired about accessing our files to create a back-up, we discovered that Webs could not supply us with copies of our data, neither would they allow us access to their system to copy it for ourselves.
With this revelation, matters had come to a head. The only way to save the site was to have a brand new website built to our own specification, over which we would have full control. We canvassed the members on this proposal through discussions in the Forums, and, overwhelmingly, the indications were that this was what they wanted – they didn’t want the site to die!
The downside was that building a new site from scratch was going to be expensive. We sought quotes from medium-sized independent companies specializing in website development, and it looked as though the cost would be in the region of £10,000. Our site may look simple, but technically it’s quite complex, which meant it wouldn’t be cheap to build. With DHP&P having no income, all we could do was appeal to the members to raise the money through donations. So many said that they would contribute, it gave us the confidence to go ahead and ask for firm quotes from three companies. The one which offered us the best value, and, perhaps more importantly, real enthusiasm for the site and what we do, was the team at Purple Creative Studio (PCS), located in North Yorkshire, England. You can read all about them on their website at: https://www.purplecs.com
Some members of the PCS team at work in the Studio
We then knew that we needed to raise at least £7000, the cost of the basic build. Several members had indicated that they would also like photo tagging, as an aid to research on the site. This, though, would add another £3000 to the cost. It was decided to commit to the basic build initially, then, if the extra money could be raised, to add photo tagging later.
It seemed like an enormous ask! The appeal for donations towards a £10,000 goal was launched via a crowd-funding website, FundRazr, on July 17, 2018 - and soon far exceeded our expectations! The £7000 basic cost was raised in just 11 weeks – an unbelievable achievement. We were then able to formally engage PCS to work on building the new site on September 27, 2018.
Not all the contributions were cash donations. A number of members donated items to be sold, with proceeds going to the fund. Most of these items were dolls’ house miniatures, but some other items were also offered, including vintage baby gowns and children’s playthings such as these cuties:
Mini Baby Born doll and pony
There were also some much older toys offered, now only suitable for adult collectors. This piece of 1950s nostalgia was bought by someone living in the Yorkshire village where it was originally manufactured:
Made in Monk Bretton, Yorkshire
Initially, most of the sales of donated items were via the DHP&P website or eBay. Brooksey offered to sell contributions on eBay for members who didn’t have the time to do it themselves. Boxes full of items arrived at her home - the biggest single contribution of dolls’ house miniatures filled her dining table!
Everything on the table was donated by one DHP&P member
The eBay selling was very successful, and wasn’t stopped until the cost of postage would have been far greater than the value of the remaining lots. The fundraising then had an enormous boost on April 20, 2019, when a great many donated items were sold at the Leeds Dolls House Show, in the UK, raising £1060 on the day. The stall at Leeds was run by Zoe and Brooksey, with invaluable help during the extremely busy morning from Zoe’s husband, Steve. The next two photos show the stall before the start and at the end of the fair:
Still setting up, before the fair opened
We had a double table; the white dolls’ house in the picture was on our stall’s far end. There was lots more stock stored underneath – we refilled the display several times during the morning. We very nearly sold out; by 3.30pm this is all we had left:
Packing-up didn’t take very long!
The Triang QA furniture was bought by a DHP&P member after the fair, leaving only the Tudor bed unsold. In total, by the end of April 2019, the various sales of generously donated items had boosted the fund by £2260! With cash donations still coming in, there was enough money in the account by that date to commit to adding photo tagging to the new site.
This story’s happy ending was on October 14th, 2019, when the new site was launched. It had taken 54 weeks to develop. In that time, the four administrators had had many prototype pages to assess and approve, content to submit, policy documents to create, stylistic conventions to agree on, and the PCS staged bills to pay. Rebecca lives in Australia, Edel is in Germany, and Zoe and Brooksey are in the UK, so our discussions often took quite a few days to accomplish because of the differences in our time zones. In addition to the online work, Zoe, as the DHP&P liaison officer with PCS, had regular face-to-face meetings with the development team in their offices. We also opened bank and PayPal accounts for DHP&P, which Brooksey has responsibility for managing. Given that it is supported by their donations, the site is now collectively owned by the members. In the eight weeks leading up to the launch, as much content as possible was copied from the former site as the administrators could manage. This can only be achieved manually, by either drag and drop, or copy and paste, from one site to the other. Photos have to be copied separately from their accompanying text. It's a very long, slow process! Transfer of the remaining content will continue (long!) after the new site's launch.
The DHP&P administrators couldn’t be more delighted that it has become possible for this article to be written! There were times in the last three years when we were convinced that this unique site was going to disappear without trace. If it hadn’t been for the fantastic support from you, the members, it surely would have done. We cannot thank you enough!