29/09/2016

How to set up a Friends Group in 7 steps:

  1. Create a positive focus to generate enthusiasm within the community, e.g. hold an event with key objectives.
  1. Get people together.
  1. Ensure fair representation of all site users. The initiator needs to rally all of the park’s associated groups to take part in either the grant application or focus event: i.e. consider the bowls, tennis, football and cricket clubs etc., day care, nursery, play group, café operator, conservation volunteers, neighbouring school, residents association, civic amenity society, church etc.
  1. Perform a skills audit within the local community to help spread workload, and make good use of experience and knowledge already available in the neighbourhood.
  1. You need to form a democratic structure consisting of a Chairperson, Treasurer and Secretary. You need a constitution which clearly defines the election process i.e. number of people to present, length of term, stand down period, membership of the group, charges (if any) for membership, how it reports to the wider group of people etc. Whilst this may seem bureaucratic, it ensures the group operates in an open and transparent way, protecting the interests of the community, Members and the elected committee and we adopted by the wider group. For a constitution template, please contact us. SWLEN can advise the most appropriate constitution for your group, as in the list below. A structure or shell refers to whether you will be a company, i.e. a body that can own assets and employment staff and have to file annual accounts to Companies House. Status refers to whether the group seeks charity status, regulated by the Charity and annual accounts will also be filed. An incorporated charitable trust has both regulators.Options are:
  • Unincorporated voluntary association (easiest option; no regulator and no filling)
  • Charitable trust (unincorporated with Charity Commission as regulator)
  • Incorporated charitable trust (i.e. a not for profit company with charitable status)
  • Not for profit company (Companies House as regulator)
  • Community interest company (CIC regulator)
  • SWLEN has helped groups with all of these structures and statuses and can provide local examples. There is no need to form a charitable trust unless the group plans a large fundraising campaign or the group intends to purchase assets, e.g. mower, computers etc. or needs to agree with the council whether the park or open space is leased or the group takes on a responsibility to manage.Community bank accounts are available at most high street banks as well as specialist charity banks. Establishing either type of bank account can take time.
  1. The Friends Group must decide how often the committee and the wider group each meet. SWLEN can initially attend twice a year, but additional support must be agreed. The Friends Group can meet as often as it likes and SWLEN can continue to attend meetings. The meetings must produce minutes that can be responded to, by the designated officer.
  1. Using the initial skills audit, the group should nominate relevant specialists. The nominees should be willing to assist LBRuT in the management of the open space. Specialisms to consider are conservation and wildlife, play, horticulture, sport, grant funding, sponsorship, web design, promotion etc. After the initial meetings are held, you can then draw up a vision plan for the park with ideas and aims for 3, 10, 20 years’ time, with SWLEN or LBRuT’s assistance. Please go to the working to improve your park page for more information.

It may be hard to keep the Friends Group together as interest wanes and members must continually be recruited. This can be helped enormously with annual events, developing a website and regular newsletter or email updates. We are available to help you sustain your group with support and advice.