You think your site would benefit from a “Friends of” group but don’t know where to start?
What is a Friends of group?
Usually a group of people who voluntarily work to maintain, improve and (often) promote a green space.
Why set up a Friends of group?
Usually it’s to make a positive contribution to a site in some way:
- To do some practical work to improve a site with others e.g. weeding, pruning, litter picking
- To protect the heritage of a site
- To fundraise for improvements to a site
- To act as a pressure group to get things done on the site
- To engage other local people in the site e.g. inspire local school children about the site.
Other benefits to forming a Friends of group:
- Increasing community cohesion - social aspect
- Having a say in how a site is managed
- Keeping fit/getting fresh air
- Increasing appreciation and respect for a site among the local community
Now you’ve decided that a group would help you and your site what do you do next?
- Develop a mailing list of interested people (if you know of any).
- Decide loosely what you want to Friends of to achieve (e.g. practical, events, fundraising) – the ultimate decision is up to the members once it’s formed and will be stated in the constitution.
- Plan a launch event based on the above (this might be an evening meeting, open day one afternoon or a practical task) – involve the site manager in this.
- The launch event should be informal, fun (to attract people) and give people a chance to feedback their feelings on the site. Ideally it would take place on or very near the site. It might involve a guided walk or talk from an expert, a practical task e.g. a litter pick or even take the form of a family event with activities for everyone to get involved in e.g. providing arts and crafts for children.
- Publicise the launch event as widely as possible (including doing a press release).
At the launch event:
- Gather names and contact details of people who show an interest in being part of a ‘Friends of’ group
- Find out what attendees think of the site, including how they would like to see it improved (often good to use a map)
- Gather feedback about what people would like a ‘Friends of’ group to achieve.
- Promote the date of the first formal meeting
After the launch
- Once you have launched the group and have enough interested people to develop it further you need to arrange the first formal meeting. Things to discuss at the meeting might include:
- Aims of group
- What the group would like to achieve (in priority order)
- Putting together a committee
- Writing a constitution
- Planning an activity to maintain motivation e.g. fundraising event, practical task.
You are unlikely to get all this done at the first meeting but this is the general direction you should be aiming to go in. Once things like the committee and constitution are in place you can start making positive steps towards achieving your aims and objectives.
Forming a committee
A committee is elected by the members of the group to carry out work on their behalf between normal meetings. Depending on the type of group you are setting up, it is normal to form a committee. But why do you need a committee?
- It helps to formalise the group (which helps get it recognised by relevant bodies such as funders and the council)
- It ensures that the work involved in running the group is shared between a few people, rather than all falling to one person
- It tends to make a group more organised
- Funders much prefer groups with a committee
Committee members are usually elected at an annual general meeting at which a review of the year will also be discussed.
Writing a constitution
A constitution is a set of rules that defines how a group is run but why have a constitution?
It is useful to create a constitution fairly early on in the development of the group as it will focus the group on why you are forming it and what you would like to achieve.
Once the group is established
Probably the easiest way to get things achieved is to put together an action plan working in partnership between the site managers and the group. This should list the objectives of the group and make suggestions about how they will be achieved. You should review progress annually as priorities change.
It is also worth giving some consideration to ensuring your group is a success as lots of groups can and do fizzle out.
- It has to feel like the group have a purpose and that they are achieving something
- Being part of the group has to be fun – don’t make it too much like hard work, beware of meetings becoming long and pointless, ensure the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming at meetings, tasks and other group events.
- Keep promoting the group so that as you get natural drop off of members, you are also gaining new recruits!
Good luck and enjoy your time with your willing helpers.
With thanks to Leeds City Council. You can find out more about their approach to setting up “Friends of” groups, case studies and some pro forma documentation on their website: www.leeds.gov.uk