25 June, 2009


Setting up a GroupQuestion

Do you think that a problem shared is a problem halved? Do you have some skills, knowledge or experiences that you wish to share with others, or perhaps you cannot find a particular group to suit your needs? If these statements apply to you and you wish to try setting up a group of your own then you need look no further.

There are numerous reasons to set up a group:

  1. You have a health condition and wish to start a local support group.

  2. Your partner is away on deployment and you wish to meet other people in the same situation.

  3. Your child has special needs and there is no local support group.

  4. You would like to start a Thrift Club.

  5. You like reading books and wish to set up a book club.

Before you start setting up a support group you must ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the enthusiasm, energy and commitment to take this on?

  • Do I have enough time to commit to the project?

  • Will I be able to accept that not everyone has the same level of commitment and the group may not work out?

Starting Out
Once you have decided to set up a group the next things you need to think about are:

  • What is the group for?
  • Who is the group for?
  • What services are offered?
  • How should I get the group started?

It helps if you know other people in the area personally, to help you get the group off the ground. It may even be useful to form a small committee to share the work involved. This means that it does not all depend on you, and if you are ill or can't attend a meeting, the meeting will still happen.

PeopleHow do you find out if people are interested?

  • Ask people you know what sort of group would be most useful or interesting to them.

  • If you can, find out what ideas have been tried in your area before (many groups will have been run in a local Community Centre or Health Centre).

  • Try and find out what activities might encourage people from the community to come to a group and what would put people off coming.

  • You could consider organising an open meeting at a local Community Centre about starting a group within your area of interest. The number of people who attend will give you some idea of whether there is support for such a group.

  • If you wish to set up a group to support friends/ carers or people with specific medical conditions then ask the health professionals to help you assess how much interest there is.

A group has a far better chance of success if it has been set up in response to an identified need. You can plan the future development of your group based on your findings.

Where to meet?
A place to meet is obviously a key element to your group. It has to be available to be used regularly and easy for people to get to so that enough people turn up to make the group viable. It's also helpful not to be charged for the space, as money can become a complicating factor. You won't need anything flash, just a private room with movable chairs will do.

Community Centres, church halls, libraries and recreation centres are all possible places to consider.

How often the group meets can be decided on over time i.e. what the group feel is appropriate. However in the beginning it is probably good to make the meeting on a regular basis at the same day and time whether it is held weekly or fortnightly.

It is important to make the effort to let people know who, what and where you are. This can be achieved by using simple flyers or small posters and leaving them in local libraries, on community notice boards, in your local health centre or in newsagent's windows. Local newspapers may be keen to write a small article on a new local group - you can always get in touch with your local newspaper or free newspaper, sending them details of your groups in order that the information remains accurate when published.

When first advertising the group meetings, give plenty of notice, maybe at least two weeks so that people can get it in their diaries.

Informal/Formal Group?

In an informal group all members tend to make decisions together, rather than relying on a committee. There is usually no one in the roles of Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. It is important that the tasks are shared around the group and that no individual gets stuck with all the responsibility. Pooling resources and working together will make your group stronger. It may be helpful to appoint a different person as the leader for each session if there are any responsibilities to undertake during the meeting.

Types of group which may be suited to informal structure: newly established support groups, thrift shops, coffee mornings, book clubs, sewing groups etc.

As your group becomes larger or if you start to raise funds it would be sensible to appoint a group committee with a chairperson, secretary and treasurer. A committee will lead the group and should be representative of its members. They can help co-ordinate and plan meetings and events as well as sanction the spending of any funds. The committee should report back to the rest of the group about any decisions they make. It is important to make sure that any fundraising is supervised and proper accounts kept.

Types of group which may be suited to a formal structure: well established support group, a fund raising group, group which brings in speakers who may require payment.

For those of you who wish to set up a small group of personal or local interest i.e Thrift Shop, Coffee morning etc., there is little formal assistance and the advice given above should help in starting up your own group. The success of the group will then depend on the enthusiasm of yourself and the people who have joined you.

However if your group is linked into a specific issue such as a medical condition, or is meeting as a voluntary group or to achieve change in the local community then the following links may be of assistance.

Medical Support Groups - If you are interested in setting up a support group for people or carers of people with a specific illness then a good place to start are the charitable support groups which lead on the illness i.e.: British Heart Foundation, Cancer BACUP UK, Haemophilia Society.

The CVS - Council for Voluntary ServicesThe CVS - Council for Voluntary Services - Is a voluntary organisation which is set up, owned and run by local groups to support, promote and develop local voluntary and community action. There are over 300 of these in England. Contact the National Association for Councils for Voluntary Service for details of your local CVS.

website Web site: NACVS

SCVO - The Scottish Community Voluntary OrganisationSCVO - The Scottish Community Voluntary Organisation - assists charities and voluntary organisations.

website Web site: SVCO

WCVA - Wales Council for Voluntary ActionWCVA - Wales Council for Voluntary Action - assists with local voluntary organisations, communities, groups and volunteers throughout Wales.

website Web site: WCVA

NICVA - Northern Ireland Community Voluntary ActionNICVA - Northern Ireland Community Voluntary Action - assists with local voluntary organisations, communities, groups and volunteers.

website Web site: NICVA

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