How to set up a community group
Setting up a community group can be a hugely rewarding experience; creating a group where people can come together to do something productive, help others or provide support is an integral part of community life.
There are many reasons for setting up a community group - they usually start with an individual or group of people who feel there is a lack of something in their community. This could be an activity club for young people, a support group for the elderly or a project that will raise funds for a community facility (such as a park).
Once the vision is in place there are various factors that need to be considered and good planning and thorough forethought at the beginning stages can save a lot of wasted effort or work further down the line. Here are some points to consider if you're thinking of starting your own community group.
Have you done your homework?
Once you have an idea for a community group, delve a little deeper to see whether there is a gap in the market. Is there anything similar that already exists? Is there a need within the community for this particular group? Consider conducting a survey to see if people in your community would join the group and if they think there's a need for it.
Learn from others
Do some more research and find out if a group similar to your idea has existed in the past. If someone has previously set up a group like yours and it failed to succeed – why did it fail? Think how you could learn from their mistakes and adapt your ideas accordingly. If there are similar groups already, you should avoid any overlaps between them, or consider working in partnership.
Set aims and objectives
The aims and objectives of the group need to be defined from the outset. To ensure they are achievable, use the SMART methodology (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). If you need assistance setting a governing document or constitution, speak to your local council for voluntary service; they are experts in helping local groups get off the ground and can advise on such matters.
Committee and management roles
The team will need a varied skill set of committee members that will run the organisation. The key roles are:
As leader of the committee, the chair will oversee the group's overall direction, work with the secretary to prepare meeting agendas, lead meetings, ensure actions from previous meetings are completed and manage recruitment and training of the committee's members.
The secretary's role is wide ranging and includes preparing meeting minutes, taking notes, distributing actions and keeping an up to date member database. They are also likely to have responsibility for arranging insurance, marketing and booking events.
The treasurer looks after the financial operations of the group. They have a responsibility to ensure accounting is undertaken correctly, as well as budgeting for the future. The treasurer should also be aware of what should be submitted to the Charity Commission, and when. Further details are available on the Charity Commission website.
Do you plan to generate funds through donations at events, membership fees or grants? Cash flow is a significant factor for your charity and having enough income over the first 12 months is vital.
As a community-based organisation, you may be eligible to apply for funding or a grant. Talk to your local or central government and visit http://www.governmentfunding.org.uk.
http://www.turn2us.org.uk/ is another website which has an easy to use search facility which could help your group source funding.
Training will almost certainly be required for volunteers and staff - think about whether you have the experience or skills within your group in order to run certain activities. Read our quick guide to training volunteers for guidance.
If you need access to equipment or outside expertise, consider approaching local organisations and explain that the group is at a very early stage in it's life - they may offer a discount or even provide their services free of charge.
Finding a place to meet
Village halls and community centres are ideal bases for your group - many are at the heart of a community, accessible and low cost. If you want to avoid any cost, you could consider holding meetings at the homes of group members.
Try to earmark meetings well ahead of schedule; even if you meet only once a month, it's worth syndicating a list of meeting dates for the year so that people can plan ahead.
If your group is going to own its own building, make sure you have taken out the appropriate insurance. Property damage insurance will protect it and its contents against theft, fire, flood and other disasters. Likewise, if you are using a third party property to hold your meetings, you will need to take out public liability insurance – this will cover you if you damage the property in any way. In fact, many landlords or local authorities will require this insurance before allowing you to hold your event at their premises. Read our article what insurance does a community group need, or find out more about community group insurance.
Setting up a bank account
Your community group will almost certainly need a bank account. Most high street banks offer accounts for not-for-profit organisations, which will allow your group to start depositing funds and authorise signatories that have access to them.
You should give some consideration to which provider to go with – there are many ethical accounts available from providers, and these may align better with your group's constitution than 'standard' group accounts.
Once aims and objectives have been set out and funding and insurance are in place, it's time to let the public know. The type of promotion to use depends heavily on those who need to know about your group; if they are active online, consider using social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread the word. If they tend not to use the internet or email, think about flyers or adverts in a local newspaper.
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