Worksop & District

Beacon

Information on the Beacon Project will be added here when available.

BEACON ADMINISTRATORRoger Hancocks
BEACON TRAININGRoger Hancocks
BEACON COMMITTEERoy Parrott
BEACON COMMITTEEMembership Secretary
BEACON COMMITTEELorraine Wood

The Beacon Project enables us to totally streamline the membership registration organisation. It will enable online membership renewal, the acceptance of online payments, the automatic printing of membership cards / badges and will enable the membership database to be linked into a groups section and into a finance section. It will also make life easier when it comes to sending out the bulk emails to the membership or to interest group members.

The project will happen over several months and will ultimately be implemented in three stages: Membership, Interest Groups and then Finance. You as members will be kept informed as to how the project is progressing, via the website and via emails. Group Coordinators will be informed and involved in training sessions as we move further into the project. Because the “management system” has been designed by U3A members and has features in it that the U3A requires, it is very simple to use and input data / information. You will notice that the new 2017 / 2018 membership form has been redesigned and now brings the information into line with Beacon.

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The Beacon Story January 2017

Introduction As more people become involved with the Beacon Project there will be some who are not aware of its origins. The aim of this note is to record the history of the project over its first two years from its beginning in January 2015 to now, January 2017.

The Beginnings In 2014, the NEC’s IT committee realised the potential for an online Membership Management System to help U3A committees manage their U3As and communicate with members. Some U3As were already using commercial online systems such as Wild Apricot. The IT committee’s then Chair, Antony Hughes, invited members interested in the subject to a meeting in London in January 2015. Some of the attendees had already created online systems for use by their own U3As. They agreed to come together to create a system that any U3A could use. This they did during early 2015.

The System goes Live After extensive testing during the summer, in Autumn 2015 a few guinea-pig U3As started using the system ‘live’. It proved to be a big hit and soon there were dozens of U3As lining up to use it. The system was given the name ‘Beacon’.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Third Age Trust From the start, the NEC welcomed the initiative and work of the volunteers in creating a system that could be shared across the whole movement. However, by early 2016 they were concerned about the long-term sustainability of the project given that it was fast becoming a critical resource for a growing number of U3As. Two meetings were held with the Beacon Project Team in Spring 2016. It was decided: 1) that the NEC would hire an IT specialist to review the system. (After interviews with three companies Siftware was chosen to undertake the system review.) 2) that a charge should be made for the use of Beacon to pay for outside IT resources should they be needed. It was felt that these potential costs should not come out of general funds because it would be unfair to U3As not using the system. 3) that every effort would be made to involve more U3A members who have the necessary skills in order to provide greater resilience to the project. 4) that a Beacon Support System be set up, based on the twelve ‘U3A Regions’.

Results of the System Review Siftware recommended a project to change Beacon’s hosting platform and to bring the php libraries up to date. This re-configuration would also make it easier for volunteers to work on the system and to control different versions of the software. Siftware are now working on this project. Live users should not notice any difference other than a possible short break in service during changeover which is expected in early April 2017. Siftware have also been asked to write a migration module to make it easier to upload data to Beacon.

Charging The charge will be 50p per member per year starting on 1st April 2017. The Third Age Trust will facilitate the invoicing of the charge and collect the payments from U3As. This fund will be ring fenced for use only by the Beacon project.

The Beacon Team As the project has grown in numbers and scope the Team has expanded to include more helpers. In addition to the Regional Support Teams (RSTs) there are also volunteers working in groups of 3 or 4 in various areas. These include Change Management, Migration, Documentation & Training and PHP Development. We are introducing more formality in some areas particularly Change Management where work requests to Siftware and acceptance of changes to the code need to be signed off by other members of the team.

Support A Support System has been set up and there is now a coordinator and support team in all U3A regions. These volunteers are available to help and advise U3As during their move to Beacon. All Beacon U3As are able to communicate with fellow U3As in their region through the use of online groups.

A growing system Currently there are almost 100 U3As using the system with a further 30-40 U3As applying to use the system. A 100 U3As will represent a total of over 50,000 members. In January 2017 we sent more than 100,000 emails for the first time.

Other Associated Resources

The User Group We are holding our first Beacon conference in Birmingham on April 20th 2017. A major aim of this meeting is to set up a User Group through which users can influence the future direction of Beacon including the priority for adding new features. This will, of course, include assessing the enhancements that have already been requested on the User Forum.

The User Forum and Demo System These will continue although the ‘refreshment’ of the Demo System data may be delayed.

Communications The Team’s ability to communicate with user U3As and others has been very limited. We only have one email address per U3A. To communicate with chairs and secretaries we have had to ask the National Office to send out emails. To address this important issue we are planning a Beacon website which will be a Beacon ‘one-stop-shop’. Users will have access to information, documentation, FAQs, etc. and a chance to sign up to receive the Beacon newsletters.

Beacon Team 5th February 2017