Yesterday saw our first Just Act live discussion and we had several of our Community Champions sharing their experiences, who are people involved in community projects from across the country. Read on to see the five key things we discussed. To read the full discussion and meet the participants, head over to the Just Act Forum.
1. Community events, noticeboards and social media
Rich: I tend to find out what’s on in my area through Facebook and Twitter. The accounts for the local council, libraries and City of Culture board are especially good at spreading the word, plus the shopping centres and arts organisations do a great job too.
Claire: My approach was twofold – Twitter & Facebook for finding clubs, groups, organisations and then good old-fashioned exploring on foot, chatting to people as I went.
Rebecca: I’ve also found out about some things through twitter, but finding out what’s going on in a very specific neighbourhood has been more difficult. I try to get along to any community or fun days that are running, as that’s where you meet other enthusiastic people and can make useful connections. And look for community buildings and community noticeboards – they have surprisingly useful information.
Kasia: Speaking from my own experiences of setting up a community garden in a public park in South London, I heard about what was going on from posters around the park.
2. The role of local authorities and Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS)
Kasia: After we had formed a group, a representative from the local council came along to one of our first meetings to give us some ideas about how to go about things, and to suggest other groups/people that we might want to get in touch with.
Rich: I’m often in contact with members of the council, as well as the Business Improvement District team.
Claire: Your council website can tell you about recognised neighbourhood groups too, and they are great sources of info for finding smaller topic specific groups.
Duncan: We find the CVS is very important to us and although we have no political interests at all, we have found it very helpful to build up relationships with individual County and District Councillors, as the connections can be invaluable when raising funds.
3. Getting people involved and connecting with other groups
Kasia: For my group, it’s been a case of trial and error really – just getting some small activities going (barbeques, kids activities, workshops etc), publicising them and then just seeing how well attended they are – and getting feedback.
Claire: We did door knocking consultation for one of our Edible Bristol bed projects, leaving printed letters behind if we had no response. We added a hand written note with a smiley face on the top to some of them – they got the best response later.
We made a great effort to get to know the diversities of the community by linking in with key members from the different groups and basically chatting with them. We have found connecting with other groups is the key and this is how things have snowballed for us.
4. Recruiting (and keeping) volunteers
Claire: We’ve found that Twitter call outs have worked better than anything else for both finding volunteers and matchmaking volunteers and groups.
Kasia: [Using a volunteer centre] is something that we have tried to do a few times as a way of getting more, regular volunteers along to our community gardens. But we’ve actually found that it hasn’t been very effective (other people may have a different opinion, of course!). I think that we’ve found that volunteer centres (in our area of london at least) tend to be quite detached from things, and it’s far better to tap into local social networks and rely on word of mouth, posters, flyers, social media etc.
Duncan: When we started, we asked for volunteers and were rather surprised that we ended up with ‘new’ folk who weren’t already heavily involved in other things. We have gradually added to these, occasionally needing help for just one day and then finding them staying on.
Rich: We found that people were very happy to be volunteers. Having said that, they were all drama students form Hull Uni, as Assemble Fest is a theatre festival. Targeting specific groups of people who can really connect with your event is a good way of going about it. If you post pictures on social media and tag them (or ask them to tag themselves), you’ll have a much wider digital reach.
5. Anything you would do differently?
Sandra:The best advice someone could have given me is don’t give up, and stick to what you know is the right thing to do.
Rich: I reckon I’d probably put time aside to visit more community centres, or at least give them a ring to see what events they have coming up.
Keep an eye out for the next Just Act discussion and if you have a question or a story to share, the Just Act Forum is always open!