At Clarity Interpretation we help people discover, explore and engage with natural and historic environments.
We write, design and supply interpretation of all kinds, using both traditional media, such as interpretation boards, and new technology. From developing ideas to the finished product, we can provide everything required at every stage of a project.
Our clients, who are mainly in the countryside, conservation and heritage sectors, range from the smallest community groups to national organisations.
What should a good interpretation panel to do? It should be visually engaging, communicate clear messages, and stand up to abuse.
We have almost 20 years experience of supplying attractive, informative, robust panels. Our clients range from small community groups to national organisations like the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts.
Wildlife Trusts – Sandwich Bay
Forestry Commission – King’s Wood
Panel in school garden with brass rubbing plaque
Wide format frameless panel with river cross-section illustration
Panel with carved timber frame
We can offer a range of services to bring your panel design together:
Creation of new design styles or working to existing branding
Clarity Interpretation will help your organisation with every step in the process.
We can provide a wide range of manufacturing options – sizes, panels materials, frames and posts, including easy-replace options for vandal-prone sites.
Sizes and shapes can be completely bespoke
Panel materials are robust GRP, PVC/PetGRP or aluminium composite
Frames and posts can be timber, metal or recycled plastic; we also supply frameless panels
Mounting can be upright or lectern (sloping) on posts, or wall-mounted
There are lots of options for carved timber frames
We can combine interactive elements into panels
Panel style gallery (click to enlarge)
Steel lectern, timber sleeper post
Wide format frameless panel with river cross-section illustration
Heavy timber posts and GRP panel
Wildlife Trusts – Sandwich Bay
Wall mounted timber frame
Panel and noticeboard structure
Forestry Commission – King’s Wood
Timber lectern rear
Steel lectern on steel posts
Carved timber side slats
Timber frame with sand blasted carvings
Maps are common features of interpretive panels and we can create them in a range of styles (see our mapping page for more).
Click to enlarge
Flat graphic map
Ordnance survey with overlay (requires OS license)
‘3D’ graphic map
Our quality illustrations can really enhance a design or recreate a lost feature of a site (see our illustration page). We also have an extensive digital photo library.
Click to enlarge
Panels don’t have to be just static words and images! We can incorporate rubbing plaques, flaps, wheels and other interactive features.
Brass rubbing plaque
Panel for school grounds with brass plaque
Toughing it out in the real world
Interpretation panels can of course draw the wrong kind of attention! We can adjust materials to suit your location, including steel frames, hard-wearing, vandal resistant, panel materials and even options for quick replacement of damaged graphics. Our panels have survived in some very edgy urban environments!
Promoting a community events programme is just as important as the planning of the activities themselves, and usually requires as much time and effort.
Here is Clarity’s guide to some promotional methods that we’ve found to work well.
1.Plan a launch event
A good way to get your community activities programme off the ground is with a launch event focused primarily on creating interest in the rest of the programme. It doesn’t have to be a big, flashy, expensive affair – essentially you just need to do something that will draw a crowd of local people in a busy place. A drop-in children’s activity, a taster workshop for adults, people in period costume, a performance, even a flashmob – whatever is relevant and will draw in passers-by. Some sort of display stand as a focus is probably a good idea, with information and literature. Create a buzz in the local press by getting some coverage, ask the mayor or other dignitary to come along and do an official launch.
Even if your activity programme is already up and running, providing an event like this can give your audience numbers a boost. The important thing is that you engage with everyone who comes to see what’s going on and tell them about what’s coming up – give them an events listing, a flyer with your website address and a summary of the project, and ask them to sign up to get emails about events coming up (reassuring them that they won’t be spammed!)
2. Start an e-mail list
If you don’t have a mail-out list, START ONE NOW! In our experience, direct e-mail is the most powerful tool for promoting community events.
If you did a launch event hopefully you will have some addresses to start you off. Also include people in your own existing networks – colleagues, volunteers, staff at partner organisations, members of community groups, even friends and family.
Your list will grow as your programme goes along. For events people need to book onto, you should ask for email addresses to send out confirmations and event details. You then add these to your list (having offered a clear and easy opt out).
During non-bookable or drop-in events, take time to approach participants with a sign-up list and ask if they would like to know about future events via e-mail.
You should also have a sign-up form on your web site and use social media to make people aware that they can join – post a link to the sign-up form.
3. Produce a printed events programme
At Clarity we use new technology in promoting events but we still find that the good old printed ‘what’s-on?’ booklet is pretty effective. People like to pick them up and keep them for that moment when they are asking themselves ‘what can we do this weekend?’
Put images featuring people on the cover and if some or all of your activities are free, make that clear. Distribute them to libraries, tourist information centres, community centres and local attractions. Use a small, standard format – DL or A5 – so that they can display them easily in their racks. Ask people in your work and personal networks to put them into places that you might not be able to get to yourself. Ask partner attractions to stock them, and don’t forget to take some along to all your activities once they start!
4. Promote events individually and in a targeted way
In addition to promoting an activity programme as a whole, for example via a printed ‘what’s-on?’, we find event-by-event promotion extremely effective. We recommend doing this in three ways:
Firstly, every single event should be promoted individually via an email sent out to everyone on your list who might be interested. Use the subject line to offer something irresistible to these recipients: ‘Photograph one of Britain’s rarest butterflies’; ‘Explore an ancient woodland through art’. We find sending the email two to three weeks in advance is long enough for small, low cost or free activities but you may need to give more lead-in for large events or pricier paid-for activities.
Depending on how bookings go, you may want to send a follow-up email in the week leading up to the activity. We have found some organisers baulk at this, afraid of over-doing it and annoying people, but as long as the event is relevant to the recipient, you should not get any complaints. To make sure it is relevant, segment your list, using groups in Outlook or the tools in E-mail Marketing Software like MailChimp, according to what recipients are interested in or where they live.
Secondly, if it’s possible on your website calendar, create an individual event page for every activity, containing full details and a quality ‘featured’ image.
Thirdly, create a separate Facebook event for every activity and individually invite all Facebook friends who you think would be interested. Do this around the time you send out your targeted email (you don’t need to invite people on the email list!) Then keep people updated: post a status if the event is nearly fully booked – ‘Just a few places left!’ – or post a link to the event website page as a reminder if take-up is slow.
5. Promote directly to organised groups and online communities
We found organised groups a great way of reaching people with an interest in specific activities. For example, we found lots of participants for wildlife photography events from local camera clubs. Many groups have websites with email addresses or contact forms, and are more than happy to hear from someone offering activities their members might enjoy. There are also directory websites with lists of local community groups and contact details. Think about offering events exclusively for the members of a group – a ready-made audience.
Facebook groups can also be a good way of contacting large numbers of interested people. We have promoted outdoor painting events on local arts-related Facebook groups. Make sure the group allows the promotion of events before you post anything by reading the ‘about’ or ‘description’ section. Also search for relevant pages with lots of likes and approach the admin by messaging them and asking to post a link to your website event page.
6. Produce simple posters and flyers
Don’t forget good old-fashioned posters and flyers! They don’t have to be works of art, just clear and eye-catching, with all the relevant information. Get a designer to set up simple templates in Word or Publisher, then you can just change venues, times and insert one or two relevant images. Web address and social media icons should be prominent.
Posters are best used at the site where an upcoming activity is going to take place. Put them up at least 10 days before the event but not so far in advance that they become faded or rain-damaged. Don’t overdo it – just put up one at each of a few key entry points – and make sure you arrange for them to be taken down once the event is over. You could try making use of notice boards at visitors centres, libraries, local shops etc. but we’ve had limited success with this. Parish notice boards in small rural communities are probably more likely to get looked at – approach the parish council for permission.
Hand out flyers at your event venue a week or two in advance and engage with people about the activity coming up (this may not be worthwhile if it is a quiet site with few visitors). Flyers are great for handing out to people at an event to promote the next activity coming up. Also, ask partner organisations/attractions to have flyers available if they have similar events during your lead-in.
Bulk, ‘scatter-gun’ distribution of posters and flyers in the high street or elsewhere is probably not the best use of your time and could even damage the image of your project. The same can be true of delivering them door to door; the exception to this is if an activity is very focused on residents’ concerns, or changes in a particular neighbourhood (for example, a workshop to consult on designs for a new park) then you can target the households in the relevant area.
7. Give people something to take away
Finally, when an event is over, offer participants a pack to take with them. Contents should include an events programme booklet, a flyer for the next upcoming activity, a feedback form for your monitoring and a pre-paid envelope for its return. Literature specific to the site could also be included. If it was a children’s event, you could add a fun activity sheet or branded items like badges or stationery. Before participants head off, have a booking sheet handy for the next activity and offer them the opportunity to sign up early.
PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN TIPS
We hope you have found this guide useful, but recognise that we are always learning new ways to do things and that other people’s experience may be different. We would value your own insight into what has worked for you in community events promotion in the comments below.
Interpretation panels have a hard life sometimes! Graffitied, scratched, shot at, burnt or stolen for scrap, we all know they are vulnerable to attack, particularly at urban sites. So is there anything you can do to reduce these problems? The right materials are a starting point, but there are other things you can try as well.
Panel material – robust or replaceable?
The temptation at vandal-prone sites is to go for the most hard-wearing, durable material possible – a thick slab of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) or PVC. This can work but, while they can take a lot of punishment, these materials are not vandal-proof and a single, determined attack could leave you needing a costly replacement board.
I think it’s always worth considering instead the ‘easy replacement option’: graphics are printed on self-adhesive vinyl and mounted on aluminium. This is much more affordable to produce and replace. You can have multiple copies of the self-adhesive vinyl printed so if the graphics are damaged you just peel the backing off a replacement and apply over the damaged one. Even if the aluminium is damaged it can still be replaced at a fraction of the cost of printed GRP. The other advantage is that information can be updated at minimal cost.
Self-adhesive vinyl on aluminium panel produced for Kent Wildlife Trust
Replacement graphics on self-adhesivevinyl
Sticking on new vinyl can be tricky for larger panels so this works best up to A2 size. If metal theft is an issue, aluminium composite (also known as Dibond) can be used (the aluminium is bonded to a polyethylene core so is useless to thieves). Graphics can be printed direct to this material.
Frame and posts – keep it simple!
The first rule at vandal-prone sites is to avoid timber frames – they are too easily burnt, scored and damaged. Steel is preferable. Although you could see any frame as just something else to get damaged so I often recommend frameless panels like this one at an urban site.
I would usually recommend steel posts at urban sites. If metal theft is an issue, there are alternatives – timber sleepers are very robust, and recycled plastic works well, particularly in wetland sites where steel may rust.
Design – avoid blank spaces
Sometimes I’ve found that the design of the graphics themselves can have an effect on vandalism, particularly graffiti ‘tags’. A tag is essentially a personalised graffiti signature and someone tagging will usually look for a white or pale coloured space so that the tag stands out. Avoiding blank spaces and pale colours in a panel design can deter tagging and other graffiti. And a panel free of graffiti is also less likely to get physically damaged.
Location, location, location
It probably sounds like common sense, but you can avoid a lot of potential problems with graffiti and vandalism by careful location of interpretive panels.
– Areas hidden from public view
– Areas with an existing vandalism or graffiti problem
– Benches, shelters, play parks, skate parks and other ‘hang-outs’
– Quiet areas with few people passing through
– Busy main entrances and thoroughfares (you will want the maximum number of visitors to see the panel anyway)
– Areas overlooked by houses or roads
– Areas that wardens/site managers go to regularly
Time it right
So you’ve got your brand new panel, with the right materials and design, and have chosen your best, busy location in clear view of visitors. Can the time of year you install the panel really make a difference to whether it gets vandalised? In my experience it can.
I’m not saying that all graffiti and damage is inflicted by school-aged children, but I have found that panels installed during the Easter or summer holidays have sometimes suffered a lot of graffiti or damage very quickly. If you can, delay installing until after the holidays.
Keep up appearances
If there is one single thing that I would recommend site managers and wardens do to safeguard their panels it’s to monitor and maintain them.
It’s essential that you respond quickly to any graffiti – if left it will probably attract more. Even a persistent tagger will usually give up if you are even more persistent with cleaning off their handiwork. You can buy specialist graffiti remover, but most of the time a bit of mentholated spirit on a sponge or rag will work just as well.
It’s good to clean your panels regularly. An eco household cleaner and a damp cloth is all that’s needed in most cases to remove dirt and algae from panels and frames. Keep metal painted and well maintained – this will help to prevent rust as well. The key thing is to keep the whole thing looking cared for – in my experience a poorly maintained panel is much more likely to attract vandals.
Of course there are no guarantees! Vandalism can be very unpredictable and there is no such thing as a vandal-proof panel. But these tips should improve your panel’s chances of survival in a tough world and hopefully extend the life of what can be an expensive item to replace.