SiteWorks General FAQs

Note that these answers to Frequently Asked Questions cover general topics. For information on authoring sites refer to the User Guide.

Updated 23rd January 2024 by Graham Tigg

SiteWorks Project

In consultation with the very small number of dedicated SiteBuilder volunteers a decision was taken to seek an alternative. Most of the qualities of the old system were required plus the potential to add more features and enhancements in the future. u3a SiteWorks is the name of the replacement system.

The project is resourced by volunteers and includes WordPress software development, the migration of SiteBuilder sites, the provision of a hosting environment, training, documentation, communication and support.

Also see What does the SiteWorks project provide to u3as?

There are several separate elements of the project.

  1. The project team have produced a SiteWorks/WordPress theme which makes it easy for u3as to produce a website that follows the recommendations for use of colour and font set out in the brand guidelines.  The theme is developed under an open-source licence which makes it available to anyone to use or modify.

  2. The project team have developed several WordPress features that provide custom functionality called “plugins” to provide a way of managing u3a groups, venues, contacts and events.  The plugins are developed under an open-source licence which makes them available to anyone to use or modify.

  3. For u3as that currently have their website hosted on SiteBuilder, it provides a migration service which will transfer much of the content of a SiteBuilder website to WordPress.  However, further editing will be necessary following migration to tidy up the appearance of some pages and to take advantage of the opportunity for significantly improved presentation offered by SiteWorks.

  4. The project will offer a hosting service to all u3as (not just those on SiteBuilder) giving access to a SiteWorks/WordPress website.

  5. For u3as not migrating from SiteBuilder their site will still have the u3a theme and plugins pre-installed, but it won’t be pre-populated with data other than some fictitious example pages. We call this the ‘Starter Site’ option.

  6. The project will provide training materials that cover the use of the plugins developed to manage groups, venues, contacts and events to enable you to get up and running on SiteWorks.  There will also be a curated list of other sources for learning about using WordPress.

  7. The project team will provide mentoring for u3as moving to SiteWorks.

There is an aspiration to stop supporting SiteBuilder at the end of 2024 but there are no dates for interim project milestones.

The reason for this is there are many unknowns. The whole project and volunteer team was created from scratch in late 2022. Challenges include recruitment and training of enough volunteer team members to work with some 700 u3as to move their sites to SiteWorks. The same applies to the availability and training of u3a Web Managers. We also require IT support from the Trust.

At the start of December 2023 we have 26 production SiteWorks sites on our hosting service. These, and the next tranche in January, are the sites of our Pioneers who have been testing the software and our processes.

Updated November 2023

The Terms & Conditions state that charging for SiteWorks production sites will not start until April 2025. An amount isn’t stated, only that the amount charged will be to essentially cover hosting and license costs.

While quoting a figure is purely speculation, the author estimates that on current costs the amount would be around £60 a site for a year and will certainly be very competitive with commercial hosting services with the big plus of providing support that understands hosting and WordPress.

The drop-down menu Web Managers includes a page Learn WordPress with some recommended web links to general WordPress training. It is recognised that these are not an introduction and quite technical in places. There is also an early video specifically on SiteWorks.

The Training Team have developed an Introduction to SiteWorks Zoom session and a comprehensive training workbook as part of the SiteWorks on-boarding process. Sessions have already been held internally for the SiteWorks volunteers.

Beacon and SiteBuilder have separate functions. The focus on the SiteWorks project is to migrate SiteBuilder sites to WordPress with the features available matching SiteBuilder as closely as possible. u3as will need to continue to maintain some groups related information in Beacon and some in SiteWorks, just as they currently do with SiteBuilder. 

While nothing official has been decided there is demand and a desire for integration with Beacon so expect to see announcements when the next development phase of SiteWorks is planned.

All u3as are equally welcome to adopt SiteWorks and take up the Website hosting offering. For u3as that don’t use Site Builder, or are starting from scratch, then a SiteWorks ‘Starter Site’ option with the training and documentation is available.

Do note that the purpose and priority for the project is to migrate sites off Site Builder.

Any website officially recognised by the Trust will be able to use SiteWorks hosting. As long as a Web Manager is available they can avail themselves to the same service as u3as migrating from Site Builder or adopt the ‘Starter Site’ option.

These are the SiteWorks hosting Terms & Conditions for u3as. They cover the whole of the UK. Terms & Conditions for u3as

For affiliated Networks, Regions, Subject Adviser and Subject Network sites there is this version Networks etc. Terms & Conditions.

Note that when invited to join the roll-out programme the first step will be for an Officer (usually the Business Secretary) registered with the Trust to sign the T&Cs.

For reference these are the Website terms of use that should be edited and available from the footer of all Trust hosted sites.

WordPress and SiteWorks

WordPress software is a very popular choice for website creators, it is estimated to be used by at least 40% of website designers worldwide. WordPress is straightforward, flexible and scalable, with the potential to adopt additional ‘plugins’ for added functionality going forward.

It is an open-source set of programs so does not involve dealing with a supplier and the associated licensing and software support costs.

Yes – the latest pre-release version of SiteWorks is available to try out. Information on how to download and install it are on this site under Web Manager > Install Local WP. For more support visit the u3a WordPress forum (you may need to register) in section ‘Discussions about SiteWorks’. This link should work if you are registered and take you to the post Try out the SiteWorks theme and plugins. There is also a section ‘Questions about SiteWorks’.

‘Local WP’ enables a single user to run a WordPress site on their computer (Windows, Mac, Linux). Local WP is a key tool for the training and migration from Site Builder.

The current focus is on replacing SiteBuilder functionality implemented through the u3a theme, u3a plugins and selected third party plugins that will be supplied on installation and supported by the SiteWorks team.

u3as can install other plugins at their own risk but some may conflict with SiteWorks plugins. u3as raising support issues may be asked to disable additional plugins and confirm their issue is still present.

Moving forward, it is possible that the SiteWorks team will test the compatibility of plugins to meet functionality requested by the u3a community. This could lead to a list of plugins that would be supported to some degree on a best endeavours basis.

Also see below Can I use the SiteWorks theme and plugins on our existing WordPress website? and Can the SiteWorks team help if our WordPress site is hosted on our own site?

SiteWorks is WordPress with a number of u3a specific features bundled in. This includes, as much as possible, equivalent SiteBuilder functions.

SiteWorks comes with a WordPress “theme” that defines a preferred colour palette and fonts as set out in the Trust’s Brand Guidelines. There are also some settings for page content spacing.

u3a specific functionality is provided by a number of WordPress plugins developed by the SiteWorks Team. These are:

  • Events – typically these will be monthly meetings open to all or outings such as coach trips
  • Groups – these help manage and publicise interest groups
  • Venues – details such as address and accessibility of venues used by your u3a
  • Contacts – entries for members who will usually be Committee members or Group coordinators/conveners. Enables contact forms to be setup that generate emails behind the scenes
  • Notices – are a way of alerting readers. Their special feature is each notice has a date range to control when it will be visible.
  • u3a Import/Export enables u3a plugin data (events, groups, venues, contacts) to be loaded or exported in basic spreadsheet format (CSV file).

SiteWorks is also configured with a selection of useful generally available plugins. For example a “lightbox” enables images to be displayed as a pop-up overlay on a page. A slider block will scroll through a number of images given a set interval.

Page layouts can be much richer than Site Builder with features such as image galleries and multi-column layouts. WordPress also automatically renders pages in a readable format on smart phones and smaller tablets.

The training and documentation team are developing a workbook that will include discussing page layouts with screenshot examples taken from u3a sites.

Hosting

Third Age Trust (TAT) has a SiteWorks hosting arrangement in place with a company called Sarah Hayes. They already supply services to the Trust including looking after the main Trust website u3a.org.uk

Of course, u3as can make their own hosting arrangements but otherwise be part of the Site Builder to SiteWorks migration. See f Can the SiteWorks team help if our WordPress site is hosted on our own site? and g Can I use the SiteWorks theme and plugins on our existing WordPress website?

Every individual SiteWorks site and account will be fully and automatically backed up on a daily basis. At least two weeks worth of backups will be retained. There will be two copies of each backup, one on your SiteWorks server storage and one off-site in the UK.

A site’s Web Manager will be able to request a restore of their site through the Help Desk.

The  backup processes perform so called incremental backups that only capture site changes from the previous day and are far less demanding of disk space than full backups. The restore capability is fast, tested and proven.

There should be no need for sites to make additional backups, but if this is done the plugins must be configured to make off-site backups, i.e. to Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox or similar. Full backups take up as much storage as the site itself and storing other backups on the SiteWorks hosting service is in contravention of the SiteWorks Operational Procedures.

Partially. Emails can be sent from within SiteWorks by creating forms that generate emails to contacts created on your site. The initial implementation is likely to be simple so, for example, it won’t be possible to see the delivery status of sent emails.

Having a subdomain also means you could potentially subscribe to an email service from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and use your subdomain for email addresses through that ISP. This would mean generic mailboxes could be configured for post holders and subject areas like chair@ secretary@ webmaster@ etc.
To be able to do this will require your u3asite.uk subdomain to be configured to allow this and there is no commitment currently to provide this service.

A domain name is essentially the main element of a web address, for example u3a.org.uk. Some u3as will have registered a domain name of their choice, for example Hammersmith and Fulham have registered handfu3a.org.uk. Along with your domain name your u3a may be subscribed to hosting and email services.

Check that your u3a has access to the management facilities of your domain. This will be with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or domain name registrar. It is far from unusual to have your domain set-up by a member who has moved on without making transfer arrangements.

If you are migrating to SiteWorks and your domain points to, or redirects to, your Site Builder site then it will need updating through your ISP/registrar to point to your SiteWorks site when it goes live. If you don’t do this then redirection should still happen, but it will be through a redirection chain – first to Site Builder and then to SiteWorks. This chain will be broken when Site Builder is eventually decommissioned so plan to do this when you migrate.

Each u3a will have its own instance of WordPress and associated database. This includes the core WordPress code, plugins and theme. This means that whatever is changed on your site, such as updating a plugin, will not affect other u3as.

The cloud hosting environment – computers and operating system – will be shared as they are now with Site Builder. The key difference is that Site Builder has one database and one suite of application programs shared by all the Site Builder sites. One benefit will be that a SiteWorks site will be independently backed up and individual sites can restored.

To learn more, do an Internet search for VPS (Virtual Private Server) or read this Wikipedia technical article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_private_server.

Of course.  Any services provided by the Trust are available to all u3as.  However, the assistance would be limited to the use of the theme and plugins developed for, or selected for use with, the SiteWorks WordPress implementation.  It will be unlikely that the SiteWorks team will be able to help with issues such as hosting or email.

For issues outside this scope, the u3a WordPress Development Forum (you may need to register) provides access to more expertise and a SOS service. 

Yes – the theme and plugins have been developed under an open-source licence so they are available for anyone to use or modify without charge or restriction.  The theme is a ‘Block Theme’ and so may not support all the features of your website if it currently uses a ‘Classic Theme’. 

If you already have plugins installed it is possible that the u3a plugins may conflict with their operation.  You should always test before installing them on a live website and ensure you have adequate backups to restore the site should any problems arise.

Our hosting arrangement is essentially based on fair usage of resources across all our sites. As video files take up orders of magnitude more storage space than images and other WordPress media, video file uploads will not be allowed.

Videos can be hosted on YouTube or other cloud services. There is a WordPress Embed block for YouTube used on the User Guide page of this site.

Note that backups of each site are made each night. Making additional backups that are stored on the server also contravenes the Operational Procedures.

Migration from SiteBuilder

With over 700 Site Builder site to migrate the programme will be running for many months. The team will be emailing u3a Web Manager contacts with details on how their u3a’s Business Secretaries can review, and consent to, the SiteWorks hosting Terms & Conditions (see FAQ SiteWorks Project > i Terms & Conditions).

These invitation will be going out in batches in order to manage the capacity of the volunteer team and the Trust to process the T&Cs acceptance. Once signed, the SiteWorks team will be contacting Web Managers to invite them to book a Zoom Introduction to SiteWorks session.

We have a ‘queue’ of u3as, Networks and Regions we will be contacting that can be found here.

The SiteWorks team are maintaining a database of Web Manager contacts for prospective and production sites. When a u3a has signed the Terms & Conditions following an invitation from the Trust (TAT), the team will contact the Web Manager(s) registered for the u3a.

Web Managers and their assistants are invited to keep our contact information current using this form https://forms.office.com/e/vkMtZi67EJ (see this site’s home page for more details). You don’t need to have a Site Builder site to register.

Note that the Trust (TAT) will be contacting u3a Business Secretaries directly with instruction on how to consent to the SiteWorks hosting Terms & Conditions.

From days to weeks depending on the complexity of a site and the Web Manager’s WordPress experience. Web Managers will be able to take their time training with a self-paced workbook they will be issued. Next, Web Managers are allocated an individual migrator.

The main steps for the Web Manager are:

  • Attend an Introduction to SiteWorks Zoom session
  • Study their training workbook and try things out hands-on on their own computer
  • Be given their Site Builder data to plan their live site
  • Prepare their live site with assistance as necessary from their migrator
  • Go live, including the re-direction of site visitors from Site Builder or their domain.

Site Builder data will be migrated to a SiteWorks production site (not initially publicly visible) for tidying up. Any essential updates that have taken place on Site Builder in the interim will need to be entered into SiteWorks. This period of duplicate updating will be minimised as a result of planning edits in advance using WordPress on your personal computer.

There are details in the Web Manager section of this site under Pre-Migration Checklist.

If your u3a has a domain name that you want to use for your SiteWorks site make sure you have access to the management facilities for it. Also see My u3a has a domain name under FAQ heading Hosting.

To start with essentially an empty website is the option we call a ‘Starter Site’ and is aimed at u3as that don’t have Site Builder sites. The Starter Site will have the u3a theme and plugins but no content beyond a few fictitious example pages. There will also be a facility to upload group, event, venue and contacts data from a spreadsheet (CSV file).

It will usually be easier to begin with a migrated site and edit/delete/add pages and menus as required. If that doesn’t work out then the pages can be removed in minutes by performing a WordPress Bulk Action to “Bin” the pages and media.

As a result of work done by the development team and our hosting company we now know that a migrated site only requires a short additional step to populate a ‘Starter Site’ with Site Builder content. Nevertheless, some Site Builder u3as with WordPress experience will consider starting from scratch with a Starter Site rather than having their content migrated. This may be because their Site Builder site has not been maintained for some time or a radical new design is to be authored. u3as taking this route may find the u3a Import/Export plugin a quick way to populate events, groups, venues and contacts from spreadsheet data.

To give an example, assume your u3a is called Blueberry and browsers use the link (URL) u3asites.org.uk/blueberry to access Site Builder today. On SiteWorks it will be blueberry.u3asite.uk (both links without the https:// and optional www.). The name you choose can be different to that on Site Builder, you will be asked to decide at the site of the creation of your SiteWorks site but after that it cannot be changed so give it some thought.

This setup is different from Site Builder in that the site will be what is known as a subdomain on the Internet. A subdomain name helps with search engine indexing and will highlight your u3a or site name at the start of the URL rather than the end behind a ‘/’.

The intention is that by the end of 2024, or soon after, all u3as using Site Builder will have had the opportunity to migrate. At this point support for Site Builder is expected to be withdrawn.

SiteBuilder allows one or more uploaded files to be protected with a combination of a single shared username and password. This means the migration software cannot access these files.

WordPress does not provide a system for password protecting access to documents and other media. Consider whether you want to make these SiteBuilder files available without a password, and if so transfer them manually to your new SiteWorks site.

WordPress does allow individual pages to be protected by a single shared password. However, this only protects access to the text on that page and any media (typically images and documents) referenced by the page are not protected and are publicly accessible.

When a Site Builder site is replaced by a live SiteWorks site then the Site Builder site will become inaccessible on the Internet. There will be visitors who will still arrive at the old Site Builder site through links from other sites or their browser bookmarks. The SiteWorks technical team will invoke a process for these visitors that automatically changes the URL in the browser to a SiteWorks one.

How this redirection will work depends on whether the SiteWorks site started out as a ‘Migrated’ site created from extracted Site Builder data, or as an empty ‘Starter Site’.

Migrated site – visitors should be redirected to the equivalent page on your new site. Note that this relies on the WordPress name of the equivalent page not being changed by the Web Manager following migration (see Technical notes below). If the mapping cannot be resolved then the visitor will land on the SiteWorks ‘404’ page.
Site Builder admins can now see how this will work. From the ‘ADMIN MENU’ select ‘MIGRATION’ and read the ‘Help’ page.

Starter Site – visitors to the Site Builder home page should be redirected to the home page on your new site. For other Site Builder pages (such as a Groups page) then the visitor will land on the SiteWorks ‘404’ page.

In either case, the Web Manager should customise the default SiteWorks ‘404’ page giving instructions to the redirected visitor. This page lives in a special place, on the Dashboard select Appearance > Editor > Templates > Page 404.

Important – when the SiteWorks site is made publicly visible the administrator of the Site Builder site will need to contact Site Builder support and request redirection. Failure to do so will mean search engines will index both sites.
If the SiteWorks site needs to be withdrawn for some reason the Site Builder redirection can be switched off.

This redirection service will be retained for around 2 months following the withdrawal of the Site Builder service. After that time the site will be backed up and removed. An earlier renewal date can be requested.

We recommend contacting sites that have links to your Site Builder site advising them to update them to SiteWorks links. See below for on how to address this.

Some Technical Notes

The forwarder from Site Builder will use a 301 “moved permanently” status. This should mean that any web crawlers should immediately stop using the old URL and any browser should forget offering the old address.

If you have a “Migrated” site, the redirection will use the page name from your Site Builder page and redirect to the equivalent page in your SiteWorks website. So, for example, if you had a group page on your Site Builder site titled “Walking – Short Walks” this will be redirected to a page on your SiteWorks website which has the page slug of “walking-short-walks”. The page slug is generated during the migration process, so even if you subsequently change the title of the page in your SiteWorks website to something different such as “Walking – Easy Walks” then as long as you do not alter the page slug, the redirection will continue to work.

If you remove a page from your SiteWorks website that was a target for redirection from a former Site Builder page, the visitor using the old URL will instead be redirected to the SiteWorks ‘404’ page. By default this shows a message explaining that the page could not be found and suggesting the visitor uses the menu or search box to find what they were looking for. You can customise this page by editing the Page 404 page template (see above).

The Site Builder redirection service will ensure 3rd party links to your Site Builder site will automatically reach your new SiteWorks site. However, this is only a means to give you time to address important links to your site as after 2 months the redirection service will be switched off. You will need to identify these links so you can contact the site owners to update them.

3rd party links to your site

Even if you have your own domain registered there could be some links that use the u3asites.org.uk/u3asitename reference – perhaps they pre-date your domain.

You can use your preferred search engine to locate the links to your Site Builder site. Go to the home page of the search engine (google.com, bing.com etc.) and type in the body of your Site Builder URL. For example u3asites.org.uk/hammersmith-fulham – do not do this in the address bar of your browser as this will simply land you on your Site Builder site and, if setup, re-direct you to SiteWorks. Don’t just type in your u3a name as this will include SiteWorks hits and muddy your results.

The search results will list sites with link(s). You will need to skip results that originate from within your Site Builder site. Check each result and decide how important it is to contact them with a request to update their link.

Some specific sites to check:

  • If you use Beacon then update the System setting’s u3a Home page and other references to Site Builder (this won’t be picked up by the search)
  • Notify your Network u3a and/or Regional u3a site admins
  • If you are registered with the Charity Commission their contact information needs updating
  • Check local community organisations, councils etc. although these should show up in your search results.

Web Managers

A Web Manager is responsible for the administration of a SiteWorks site. This is a much broader role than just maintaining content.
Your Web Manager and their assistants will be responsible for:

  • setting up user accounts for u3a members who need to be
    able to log in to the website to maintain the website content

  • making such changes to the website that can only be made by an
    administrator including changes to the website main menu and overall
    appearance

  • installing and configuring any additional plugins chosen to meet the needs of
    the site

  • ensuring that all content complies with copyright legislation

  • ensuring compliance with the provisions of the GDPR

If your issue cannot be resolved by referring to our User Guide then you will be able to raise a support ticket with our Help Desk team. We will be providing a form to create a support request. Note that the Help Desk is expected to only be available to Trust hosted SiteWorks sites – while it is run by volunteers is does carry costs.

For more general advise, for example the pros and cons of various designs, then use the u3a WordPress development forum https://u3awpdev.org.uk (you will need to register).

The ticketing system is provided by the Zendesk product that is also used by the Trust to manage general queries and by the Beacon support team.