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I think your idea is great. I’m not far from you and know that the area will greatly benefit from something like this.
For a free community website which is pretty straightforward to set up and easy to update and add pictures etc., our group have used the BT community kit (www.btck.co.uk) and this works very well using Firefox internet explorer and is compatible with Microsoft office so you could upload a newsletter onto the website quite easily.
We are in the process of setting up a forum on our site by embedding the free chat room service from http://www.parachat.com on to our website so I can’t tell you what it’s like to use yet but it might be an option worth looking at once you get a website up and running.
There are a few other free chat room sites available which can also be embedded into a webpage depending on what security and admin services you will require.
Hope that helps.