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How to set up a community pressure group

Moira Petty / 01 July 2015

Starting a community pressure group is a good way to bond with people over a like-minded cause.

Mixed community group
Form a core group to begin work - three or four will be the linchpin and can recruit others to make up the committee.

1. Find an issue that can be tackled by a community action partnership

Is there an issue you can do something about? Is there a gap in a local service? Listen to people - are locals muttering about the need for a local bus, library, shop etc?

Listen to the chatter outside the school gates, in the pub or local shops, at the railway station or bus stop. The impetus has to come from the grassroots - community action has to be bottom up not top down to be successful - and the starting point is agreement that something needs to be done.

2. See if the campaign can be met by existing suppliers

Before launching a campaign, find out if there are commercial companies or local bodies which may supply the gap in facilities or services which you have identified. There may be a monopolistic supplier you can approach eg if the community is asking for a new or expanded bus service, speak too transport companies in the area.

Research what services there are already and what are the gaps. Find out if someone has tried to do something about this before - if they have failed, can you realistically succeed? What are the lessons from past attempts?

3. Start a buzz in the community

The experts/suppliers might not be able to supply the service or they may say there’s no need for it - but are they asking the right questions? If there’s a lot of noise coming from the community, investigate the issue.

Ask neighbours  to do a bit of sampling, talk to people and report back. If people aren’t much fussed about the issue, there won’t be the support for action but if they are voluble about an issue you can launch a campaign.

4. Are you a lobbyist or one hoping to supply a service/facility?

There is a difference between an organisation which wants to lobby authority on an issue eg anti-fracking and a group that is trying to provide a service eg a local shop.

The first is trying to sway opinion or to stop something and will be formed of like-minded individuals who must put together cogent arguments that they can put to public bodies and the media.

The second wants to introduce something concrete like a local service and is the most common community pressure group.

5. Form a core group to begin work

These often form spontaneously, composed of the people who will drive the project. Three or four will be the linchpin and can recruit others to make up the committee. Fewer than six and too much will fall on them; more than 12 and it’s difficult to organise and get consensus. They need a good skill set as they’ll carry the load.

People who have the ability and time to do these things tend to be on lots of committees such as the parish council, the PTA etc.They are known to the community and respected. You might be lucky enough to have an expert on the service you want to provide but organisational skills are generic.

6. Appoint officers to take a strategic plan on the committee

You need a Chair who will run meetings, set the agenda and have the casting vote. You may also appoint a Vice-Chair if useful. The Treasurer will manage the group’s finances, liaise with the bank and record all expenditure and income. The Secretary deals with correspondence, helps meetings run smoothly and is the link between the committee and the community and between the organisation and other agencies.

7. Flesh out your project proposal

You should pinpoint what you want to achieve and how much it will cost.  You must have a firm proposal to put to the community. Saying you’re not happy with the status quo is not enough - especially when going to local agencies for support or funding as they can’t work with woolly ideas.

8. Get support and advice from local agencies

Speak to the experts such as your local development agency or the community development team at your local authority. Councils are involved in a lot of the services that people need or want. Community issues often impinge upon authority in some way so get used to speaking to them in a concise and organised way.

9. Draw up a business plan example

Think through costings, cash flow and what you need to spend to get the organisation up and running. You don’t need to be an expert - anyone running a household efficiently knows about cost and expenditure.

10. Call a local meeting place

Think about the right venue. Is there transport? How many people will it accommodate? What will be the costs involved? Publicise the event with leaflets and posters - modern printing and photocopying make this easy.

If appropriate ask if the school will send leaflets home in school bags or see if local leisure or education groups will distribute material. Email supporters and ask them to forward the information.

11. Conduct for running a public meeting

Set out a code of conduct for the meeting - eg. not interrupting a speaker. Those running the meeting should be able to communicate their ideals clearly and not be strident or aggressive. You want to encourage locals to take up the idea as their own and not feel it’s been imposed on them.

12. Setting up the legal structure of the group

It may be an unincorporated association, which is not a legal entity but has a constitution. Most community pressure groups will be incorporated organisations, not run for profit with surpluses going back into the community. These may be limited by guarantee - meaning members agree to pay a stated sum, usually £1, should it become insolvent.

Or it may be limited by shares, a set-up that is suitable for social enterprise groups such as the trading arm of a charity. A trust may be established to hold money or property for charitable purposes with named trustees. 

Finally, a provident society can be set up to trade on a co-operative basis for the benefit of members and must register with the FSA (Financial Services Authority).

Although these options may appear complicated, there are plenty of development agencies that can advise.

13. Look out fund raising ideas

Work out how to attract money. If your business plan isn’t well designed, you can’t expect to get investments or donations. It might be an environmental project that will attract donations from committed individuals and grants from conservation groups.

Apply for funding from appropriate regional and central bodies. Locals with some cash to spare may buy shares or make loans if they like the concept and think it will improve the quality of life locally or they may do it out of community spirit.

14. Attracting volunteers to work

Find local experts who can provide free advice or oversee work - eg if buying a pub or shop, ask estate agents for prices, ask a builder to estimate costs of work. You must be able to assess what volunteers are capable of and make them feel valued.

Don’t be put off by councils or bureaucratic organisations who may greet the idea of volunteers with horror. The concept of volunteer fatigue is well recognised - engaging with enthusiasm then dropping out.

Work out how to bring in fresh blood as people get tired, ill, or move away. If you have adequate cash flow, you may be able to employ experts to do some of the work.

15. Tapping into community spirit

Supporters should ideally bond through a common vision and mutually encourage and support each other. A communality of interests is important, the sense that you can achieve something together. Community spirit can keep volunteers going when they might otherwise flag. The best community pressure groups promote social cohesion and inclusivity and give people a sense of control over their lives.

Local heroes, Moira Petty's article about three community campaigns led by retirees, was published in the June 2015 issue of Saga Magazine. 


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