There are three main ways that groups get started:
- An individual person or a group of people has an environmental idea, such as community composting, creating a wildlife garden, planting trees in the street, and they recruit friends and neighbours to get involved.
- An existing group decides to add environmental projects to its activities. For instance, a residents association decide they want to improve their local park. Groups like this have a ready-made structure with a good communications system and probably some existing financial support.
- A paid community or environmental project worker goes out to the community with ideas, support and training, to achieve a variety of aims.
Knowing your aims and targets is an essential first step before deciding on any form of organisation. You may have got together to do one definable project such as a clean-up or bulb planting, and longevity may not have been your aim. However, success usually brings out further ideas and enthusiasm to go on to bigger and better things.
Most groups start with a core of enthusiastic individuals but urban communities, by their nature, tend to have lots of transient individuals. This means that the group will need a structure to encourage stability and recruitment. You can have a membership organisation with a committee and elected officers, or just be a loose group with little pressure or formality. With an informal structure people may not feel so committed, and it can be difficult to sustain the group.
Commitment is needed but levels of commitment may vary from individual to individual. Even the smallest contribution is important. Allowing people to make very small contributions may encourage them to participate further. Pushing too much responsibility onto unwilling individuals can end up with an extremely negative effect. Volunteering must really mean that. Not ‘You, you and you!’.
Many groups feel more secure if they have a formal structure especially when dealing with group funds. Many funding bodies only pay grants to groups with a written constitution and elected committee.
Education and training
Training is a major benefit for any environmental group. By acquiring skills and developing knowledge, members of a local group can undertake work independent of the original support structure, develop ideas of their own, exchange skills and information with other groups and pass on their knowledge to new members, as well as the wider community. In this way, the community can become better educated on environmental affairs, find greater empowerment, and develop cohesion and co-operation.
An interesting training programme is attractive to new recruits and existing members alike. Gaining skills for the whole group also leads to greater sustainability.
Publicity is vital for the growth of your group, and for getting and keeping in touch with other groups and individuals. Display posters with a contact name and address or telephone number at the local library, community centre, college and any other public places. Provide news of your activities and future events to local organisations who may include it in their newsletters. Produce leaflets and distribute them through libraries, local authority offices, information centres, surgeries and so on, and keep the local newspaper informed about events. Some groups have regular slots on local radio to promote their work.
You can gain new and bigger audiences by tapping into national events. By arranging suitable activities during national campaigns, cultural or religious festivals, you can make your activities accessible and significant for many more people. Some of the annual events which may appeal to different sectors of the community include:
- Pond Action, TCV’s annual pond campaign
- Diwali, the annual Asian Festival of Light
- International Women’s Day
- Science Week
- Jewish new Year
- Apple Day
- Environment Week
- Tree Week