The benefits of digital mapping – an interview with Fivehead and Swell Parish Council on how they use Parish Online

During these uncertain times, parish and town councils are having to adapt their services to provide support to their community and those most vulnerable in the area. Some councils are actively using technology to help their local communities during the coronavirus outbreak, such as Parish Online.

You can find out more how we are working with Parish Online here.

We have had the opportunity to catch up with Jill Wardle, Clerk of Fivehead and Swell Parish Council, who has been using Parish Online for over a year. Jill shared her experiences of using the platform, described the best features and explained the main reasons for using Parish Online.


What are the biggest challenges to your Council since COVID-19?

We are a rural parish of around 250 houses with a village centre and several distant hamlets. We are lucky to live in a beautiful area with opportunities to exercise but our facilities are limited with the main shops located 5-10 miles away. The biggest challenge was putting a Support Network in place across the whole parish that was helpful and reassuring without being intrusive and onerous for volunteers.

Have you got any examples of good initiatives or community projects that have been successful for the Council during COVID-19?

The two main initiatives have been the establishment of a Parish Support Network of volunteers and the formation of the ‘Fivehead Scrubbers’ an industrious group of 23 ladies who are making scrubs, washbags, and PPE for the NHS and other carers.

To meet the challenge described above, the Support Network was designed around Clusters of ten or less properties usually within line of sight of one another. This meant that neighbours often already knew one another if only by sight. For our situation it felt like a more personal approach that could be managed with minimal risk especially for more vulnerable residents. The Clusters, which were designed using Parish Online mapping software (see below), each had a Lead Contact who was supported by volunteers across the village willing to collect shopping and prescriptions.

Do you have any advice for other Councils reading this, in terms of managing the risks of COVID-19?

Do what feels right for you and your residents – hopefully, you know people and their key issues. Concentrate on doing what you can do well and look further afield for support when needed from other organisations and specialists.

How long have you been using Parish Online? What’s your experience of using the platform?

We have been using Parish Online for just over a year. We started using Parish Online primarily when looking at planning applications. It is particularly useful mapping out site locations with respect to SSSIs and other environmentally significant features. 

Last Autumn we were successful in getting a Health and Well-Being grant from Somerset County Council to fund a new parish map and a series of parish walks leaflets. The walks have been mapped using Parish Online layers of OS data, Rights of Way data and aerial photography.

The other key use was in defining the Clusters of properties for our Parish Support Network as described above.

Our next projects are to record all our assets and environmental data.

What are the main reasons for your Council using Parish Online?

The software is easy to use and supported by good training material and a very helpful team. The multiple layers of data available have already proved to be useful for a number of projects and provide fascinating opportunities for new ways of recording our parish.

What’s the best feature of Parish Online?

Existing and growing number of data layers.

What’s your experience of working with BHIB Councils Insurance for your Councils Insurance?

We are in a 3-year contract which gives free access to Parish Online. Thankfully no insurance claims yet but we have received good and prompt customer service and advice from BHIB when making enquiries about specific situations.

Would you recommend the BHIB / Parish Online offer to other Councils?

Absolutely – there is a good synergy in their aims of helping parishes to manage and protect their assets and environment effectively using geospatial data.

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