THE SO TOOLKIT

04. STRUCTURE & PROCESSES

THE BASICS – HOW WE SET UP AND RAN THE GROUP

After declaring a climate emergency in September, in October 2019 Overton Parish Council (OPC) called a meeting for interested parties to become involved in the Climate Emergency project.  We had a good turnout, with a mix of people with a variety of useful skills and knowledge, or just some enthusiasm and motivation to get something positive done. Several of the Parish Councillors also joined the meeting and offered to get stuck in.  

SETTING UP THE GROUP

From our initial meeting it was decided to set up 6 sub-groups:

  • Energy

  • Transport

  • Environment

  • Waste & Recycling

  • Business and Education (this includes churches, clubs and societies)

  • Communication and Events

Various communication methods were swiftly set up; a group email list (with appropriate GDPR agreement from all parties) and Dropbox for communications. Later, we set up our website, as this needed quite a bit of work, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Overton also has a monthly newsletter “News and Views” in which we could put a column or an insert each month, which we use each month to update everyone on what’s going on. 

 

Each group was responsible for looking at their own area, and setting their own objectives and strategies. This would then be for discussion with the steering committee, and fed into the overall plan. We agreed that each sub-group would meet monthly in between the steering committee meetings, either at someone’s house or in the pub (in the pre-COVID months of course), and then report back on their plans/actions. Each group was asked to produce an agenda and minutes for each meeting, with clear actions highlighted.

 

These were then to be placed in the Dropbox so that everyone could access them.

We did find that not everyone found using Dropbox easy, many of us forgot to load up documents.

Also, as time went by, we found we needed to form smaller splinter groups for specific projects – e.g. Plastic Free July campaign, social media, etc.

 

SETTING UP A STEERING COMMITTEE

We decided that there should be a steering committee made up of a representative from each of the groups, who would meet monthly. This would not necessarily be “the leader”, but simply a spokesperson.  After the first few meetings where we invited anyone in the parish that was interested (as we wanted and needed to find more volunteers and expertise), the meetings became rather cumbersome to run, as it was difficult to “steer” and discuss things in such a large forum, and there were simply too many agenda items for an hour’s meeting. It was also time-consuming to do necessary things such as greet everyone, remember everyone’s name and face and connect the two (not always easy for some of us). Also, we needed to talk to everyone new and find out what they wanted, what their skills and experience was, while also keeping the meeting to approximately an hour – difficult when there is so much to discuss, and so many new people to talk to, but important as people are giving up their evenings to do this.  However, when we suggested we meet separately, the group communicated that they really wanted this connection to other people who were concerned about this area and wanted to do something positive. So, we compromised and had the committee sitting at the table, and everyone else on chairs next to us. 

LEARNING POINT:

ENGAGING VOLUNTEERS AND NOT LETTING THEM DRIFT AWAY

Welcoming committee: this was a little haphazard at first, so with hindsight we suggest:

  • Form a small team of people to welcome volunteers, take their names, emails and phone numbers, and a few details about what they are interested in helping with, and any relevant skills or experience they have. 

  • Make everyone feel valued and a part of the group. You could use a basic skills audit, as long as you don’t frighten away anyone who may have time and enthusiasm but doesn’t feel they have many skills. Everyone has strengths, they just often don’t realise exactly what they are.
     

Delegate, and respect peoples’ time

  • Have a separate person to take the minutes, and someone to chair the meeting, others on refreshments.

  • Make sure you have a published agenda, and stick to it, and endeavour to keep the meeting to time (we didn’t always manage this at first). If people want to stay and chat afterwards that’s great, but those who need to get home can do so.
     

Provide some refreshments

Luckily, we had amazing cakes and biscuits from Jane, one of our brilliant volunteers. Important, as some people may have come straight from work with no supper. It’s also a good icebreaker.

Get to know your team: As the chair of the group I spent a lot of time meeting up with people individually as far as possible, to connect with them, tap into their knowledge, and find out how best to engage with them. Ideally have 2 or more people running the group, to share out the work, otherwise it can become a bottleneck or too onerous for one person.  

EACH GROUP AGREES ITS OWN PLANS

We encouraged each group to set its own objectives and run its own projects, while keeping the steering committee in the loop. This allowed people to take ownership, while retaining overall control of what’s going on. It’s important to create opportunities for the teams to get to know each other, maybe by having some cross-team groups on various projects, as this builds levels of trust and helps cross-fertilise ideas. This has been difficult with Covid19, and we have found we have had more zoom meetings or small meetings in gardens when allowed, in order to keep up the momentum and support each other, as well as making sure that we’re all moving in the right direction.

LEARNING POINT:

  • Sometimes some groups struggle with various things – lack of time, lack of focus, group not gelling, other commitments, personality clashes, lack of relevant skills within the group etc. Keep channels of communications open and offer help when needed.  It’s useful to have people who are enthusiastic and good motivators to help out with this. 

  • Sometimes it’s helpful to suggest some realistic and easily achievable goals or projects.  People need to play to their strengths. Or find someone to pick up the slack as required. Be realistic about what people can achieve. If it’s too much like “work” people won’t want to do it, or may give too much and get stressed. It’s meant to be challenging but fun.

 

TRACK PROGRESS OF EACH PROJECT

With the best will in the world, it’s easy for things to take a long time, or not get anywhere at all.

 

  • Each project needs someone to drive it forward if you want results. Obvious to say, but not always easy to deliver. 

  • It’s good if you can have one or two people in charge of monitoring all the projects. Sometimes you do have to shelve or postpone projects. However, if nothing gets delivered the whole group will become demotivated. 

  • It can be easier to go for the “low hanging fruit” to start with, while working on longer term projects in the background, to maintain the momentum.

RECORDING

We reported to the Parish Council monthly to give an update on what was happening.  In between times, approvals were also sought on things like signing off on newsletters or key projects.  Because so much was happening, our learning here was that it can be better to a give a written one page summary and circulate beforehand, so that parish council members have time to process it and ask any questions, they can also feel comfortable that things are being run effectively and well, and also they have a record of things.  A verbal report is fine but it easily forgotten, and particularly on Zoom it’s not always easy to hear every word. Give people time to give their input – this can be invaluable - and keep them on board with what is happening.  

LEARNING POINT:

FINDING EFFECTIVE INTERNAL COMMUNICATION METHODS

 

Offer help, and remain flexible on different technologies

Some volunteers were not au fait with some technologies (either due to experience/age or through not wishing to use certain social media). 

 

Ways to address this can be:

  • Offer to help anyone set up Dropbox or Zoom – recognise that this is unchartered territory for some people.  

  • You may have to find an easier alternative such as just emailing documents and information. You can’t force someone to use WhatsApp, Zoom, Excel or Dropbox if they don’t want to, or find it difficult, don’t have the programme or don’t have the relevant technology to support it. Be flexible. People can be reluctant to say that this is difficult for them, and this might be a cause of stress.

LEARNING POINT:

FUNDING

 

We discussed funding, and agreed that we would initially run the group with a small allowance from the Parish Council if needed, and apply for funding from other bodies if required, and rely mainly on the goodwill of volunteers. You can try:

  • Your Parish Council - they may be prepared to make an allowance to cover printing or web costs, or combine your message with a current media for economies of scale.

  • Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council – The climate change team have a small allowance for things such as green week leaflet printing.

  • Hampshire County Council – particularly their Waste Prevention team, who supplied us not just with training but also some giveaways and electronic information/posters etc that we could use as Food Waste Champions.

  • HCC sometimes run a waste prevention grant up to £5000.

  • RCEF provide grants for community energy projects (see our other toolkit here). 

  • A guide from Salix about the decarbonisation of public buildings can be found here

  • Sometimes businesses also offer grants for innovative ideas.  

  • From participants in workshops: If we ran workshops that required buying things, we asked for a small donation to cover the costs (e.g. cost of beeswax wraps materials).

  • Going forwards raising funds is an option if necessary.

CARE FOR YOUR VOLUNTEERS

 

We have learned that volunteers have to step away or leave at certain times – for a variety of reasons – be that work pressure or family issues, illness, new babies, other commitments, personality clashes, or sometimes people can give too much and get burnt out. This is particularly important to watch out for, as this is a situation that we all want to avoid.  People can only give so much, so it’s important to have enough coverage so that the work can be spread out effectively and fairly. Also, if you decide to become a legal entity in your own right in the future, you will certainly need some proper HR processes in place to help manage people well.

Obviously, it’s important to treat all volunteers with respect, and kindness, and provide support to each other when things seem overwhelming. We spent a lot of time getting to know volunteers, having meetings or chats over coffee (when COVID allowed), and just checking in on them. It’s not only an important investment in each person, it’s also very effective in finding out what people’s strengths are, so tasks can be changed around to suit these. Also, a positive and understanding culture means that people feel they can step away for a bit and then come back later, without worrying they have let anyone down. 

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