So in my last post I talked about how I started The Urban Homesteading Club in my area, and how grateful I am for the amazing people I've met, and the active members who make the group what it is. Today I'd thought I'd share some advice for those who may be wanting to start something in their own area. Please know, I am not a start-a-community-group expert, by any means, but just hope by posting this, maybe it helps someone else who has been thinking about doing this, because they haven't been able to find a suitable existing group to join. I tried joining groups, I did, but it just didn't work out! Not a total loss, though, as all the group involvement and experiences I had, surely meant that I had learnt something! I knew that creating the right dynamic and model to suit myself, then finding others who agree, was important. Whilst I don't claim this is some new and innovative concept, I just know that these were things that helped me out. You might find exactly the opposite works for you!
Our focus is being a social group, really, who do occasional workshops (bread making, preserving), but when we get together once a month, we look around the 'homestead' usually, we swap produce and seeds, we chat and share advice, and have afternoon tea. Sometimes kids & partners come along, sometimes they don't. We have female and male members, though I believe we have more female, and they are generally the more active ones in the group. In between the monthly meet up's, on our Facebook group page, we admire each others photos, offer stuff to each other, share links or resources recommendations, and generally, chat and converse everyday.
I do know I got lucky (so lucky) to come across a group of people who work well together, and maybe it was just all luck that it works, nothing to do with anything I did, or what I do behind the scenes at all! I don't do much, I've made it as easy for myself as possible. It could change, as the numbers grow, there will be even more diversity and possible conflicts to moderate, or it may be harder to organise get togethers that fit everyone in! We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess. In the mean time, here are some ideas if you want to start your own... (and I have included some examples from the details of our group too).
Find your dynamic concept
- For me, I know that people are busy and already have enough going on in their lives. I think they want minimal commitment and responsibilities. I know I do! But I also don't think that all the pressure should be put onto one or two people either. Think about what sort of group do you want to be involved with. A group with rosters, venues and set dates, or maybe something more flexible/ variable? Do you want to be 'in control' of all the decisions/ plans, and accept that this means more work for you? Or do you expect that everyone will take a fair-share (such as hosting once, or twice a year) and accept people may do things differently for their turn, than how you might? Do you want to meet up weekly, or is once a month more realistic? Do you want to have a list of guidelines, or just let it work out how it was meant to be? Do you want to purely focus on workshops, farm visits, educational experiences, or maybe the social aspect really appeals?
- Christine is part of a Friday Veggie Group, which I think it is a great idea too.
- Remember, that whilst this is your group to start or run how you like, if you cannot entice other people to join, or please the majority, you won't have a group!
- For my perspective, the low key approach to promoting and running the group has made it much easier compared with others groups I’ve been involved in starting and running. I still do some behind-the-scenes work like 'Approving' member requests to join & welcoming them, making sure we have hosts for the upcoming get togethers, posting a 'Poll' every now & then, receiving all notifications for/ from the group this group, following up with hosts when it comes closer to their event time, and promoting the group once in a while too. However, the group has become self-sustaining really, because people start their own discussions/ thread on the group page, create their own Document, post their own photos or links, mostly offer to host & create their own Invitations and send them to all the group members. This is a concept which could be taken on by anyone, anywhere really.
- I wanted to have actual monthly get togethers, but also knew that a place where people can chat and share photos online in between the meet ups, could enhance the vibe of the group. I knew I didn't want to set up or run a website again, like Webs, or some other free (or paid) forum setting either. I had been part of Facebook groups before, and though I know many people are not on Facebook, most people at least have an account (or can easily set one up) and can opt to get emails sent if they receive an Invite, even if they don't want to use or check their actual Facebook account. Whilst Facebook may have some issues (please know I am NOT promoting it as the only option here, or in anyway do I get kickbacks from Facebook... it annoys the crappers out of me at times too!), it is an easy way to communicate, share photos and links, and Invite members to the monthly get togethers. (On the left sidebar of your Facebook Newsfeed, you can see a category for Groups, and the option to Create a Group). You can make it a Closed or Secret group, to protect members privacy and reduce the chance of spammers or trolls. You can email the group, create Polls, and send Private Messages. Trying to set up a group email list can sometimes be tiresome, but with Facebook, you easily contact all your members, without having to update a list. There are some websites who may cater for running a community group too, like Swap Shuffle Share, but I don't know much about them.
- I found the Doc's in Facebook sometimes don't format very well, so I set up a Google Doc Spreadsheet as a Forward Planner (with a Link to it in the Files section of the Group page). Members have the link and can view it (if they are so inclined), to see what might be coming up or perhaps when they can host. We pretty much work out month by month, though we actually have hosts/ events arranged til February 2013, with the finer details worked out just after the last monthly get together. There be other Calender options, and Facebook has some, but this gives me an instant overview of the coming months. We generally only have the Invite done a few weeks before the event, so the Events Calendar for the group can only show the next event, whereas a spreadsheet (or a calendar format of some kind) can show me the coming several months of 'hosts' who have offered, even if we don't have actual dates or themes at that point.
- Some other ideas that are working for this group is the concept of 'reciprocal hosting'. You might have access to a local community hall that suits your group better, but this often means someone has to have the key, be responsible for the clean up and security of the place too. If members of your group take a turn in having the group to their place, it means everyone can take a turn organising, and you get to appreciate the diversity in our group, as well as explore other people’s ‘homesteads’. We do have people offering to host in advance, or if I notice we don't have a host lined up, I ask for offers, and will sometimes get the next couple of months covered. We have had it held at an outside venue, but I think it was a bit too tricky for people to come along, trying to meet up in a busy market & then go to a different venue after for lunch as well. However, you might have a group who happily go on farm visits, or meet at farmers markets or nurseries, or find each other at special days/ fairs etc.
- We have about 30 or so people who are our 'regulars', who chat on the Facebook group page, and who come to get togethers, but not all at the same time! We haven't had a problem fitting in to someone's house, and there always seems to be somewhere for the kids to play. Usually everyone brings something to share for afternoon tea.
It would be great if everybody could take a turn at hosting and organising. It will require minimal commitment, with no (or very minimal) costs. You do not have to have people to your house, as you can choose another suitable venue. If you are teaching/ sharing a particular skill, you don't have to provide the materials, as you could have each person bring their own. You don't have to put out buffet of food and drink for your guests, instead you can request each person bring a little something to share!
Promote your group/ get the word out!
- Whilst I didn't throw myself gung-ho into promoting this group like I did with some of the others, I still take opportunities to spread the word to those who might want to know, if they arise. For people who want to start groups and perhaps don't have a network to tap in to, some other promotion ideas I used with other groups, include (of course, always ask permission before posting information or flyers about your group):
- Put up flyers/ posters in the local library, notice boards, nursery or garden shops, landscape supplies, craft shops, food co-ops, schools, and kids play places.
- Post the information on appropriate forums, with new ones having started like Swap Shuffle Share, Landshare Australia, Local Harvest, who may be able to help out.
- Let bloggers from your local area know, contact the radio station, or do a 'Press Release'.
- Maybe your local council or Neighbourhood Watch has a newsletter, or list of emails they send notices out to.
- There may be some local community groups who don't mind promoting your new group, such as PermaBlitz, Landcare or a gardening club.
- When promoting the Urban Homesteading Club, I made sure I stated that it was open to a wide range of people, who were doing activities like growing food, raising chooks, home crafts, community activities, beer brewing, whether in a backyard or on a patio, or even those who might not consider themselves urban or suburban! Many people would also not know what 'urban homesteading' is!)
What Is This Group All About Then?
This is a group of like-minded folks who have an 'urban homestead', are in the process of setting one up, or are simply interested in some aspects of this 'lifestyle'. We get together once a month for a chat, cup of tea or nibbles, and to learn some new skills, gain some knowledge and even exchange produce! General chin-wagging is also encouraged, and in between our monthly meetings, our members have very interactive discussions on the Facebook group page!
Social Get Togethers/ Workshops/ Activities & Conversation, include (but not limited to):
chicken keeping : growing organic food : knitting : crochet : preserving : bread making: soap making : felting fermenting : spinning : frugal living : bee keeping :herbal remedies : seasonal activities : homemade gifts : community resilience :harvest sharing : seed swapping & more!
- Make the first get together easy for people to turn up and recognise you. Bring a friend or partner for support. Even if the first meeting is just two people, that is a start. You just need to start. If it doesn't work out, what have you lost? Nothing! Remember, going along to new groups, especially ones that have only just started, is like going on a blind date. It can be nerve wracking! Having it at someone's home may intimidate people, so a local cafe might be better for the first one or two get togethers. Have a sign, or tell people who to look for. Book a table and have them put up clear signage for who the table is reserved. If you feel so inclined, have some 'ice breakers' ready, so the conversation keeps moving. Maybe have the details about the Facebook group ready to give to people, and maybe even the details of the next get together already organised.
- As with any group, even one with a common interest, there will be differences of opinion on many things! I find people are tolerant and respectful of others opinions, and understand that sometimes online you cannot express the tone or meaning of what you were trying to say! I haven't had to 'moderate' the Facebook group, and whilst I hope I never have to, if someone joined just to promote their own business, charity, organisation, religion, agenda, I would. If there was Spamming, Trolling, or major hostility, I would step in. I work two days a week, but am off & on the computer the other days of the week. Like I said, I also get instant notification of everything that gets posted on the group, though once a thread starts and if I haven't personally contributed to it, I don't get updates of each reply.
- Diversity is something to be appreciated and enjoyed, I think. The different backgrounds, educations, cultures, employment situations, and all that really contributes to giving each other great support, advice and humour! When you have a group without any joining process, open to the public, no selection criteria, and managed via an online format, you embrace what you get and be happy about it! We have diversity within the 'urban homesteading' category too, with people with patios, courtyards, backyards and properties! Some are only just getting into aspects of 'urban homesteading' and others are 'experts' who've been doing stuff for years!
- We are inching close to 100 members. Many of those joined & we never heard from them. Bit rude you might think, but that's life. Stuff happens. I joined a Facebook group called I Love Water Kefir. I posted a couple of questions, replied to a couple, and not been back again. Of course, in our group we do have people's privacy to think of (their address is on the Invites/ Event details) and we share a lot about ourselves and our families too. It isn't nice to think that someone might be reading along, happily enjoying everyone elses conversations and not adding anything or sharing their own personal stuff, but I don't think anyone is doing that. It wouldn't be the end of the world if they did, either, I guess. I also think, well, if it takes 10 people to join (who never participate) to get just 1 of our 'regular' active & contributing members, it is worth it. One day, one of those random members might start to be more involved, and become as obsessed about talking about urban homesteading as the rest of us!