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August 25, 2020

DIY community groups

On a fairly regular basis I receive correspondence from individuals who have become deeply frustrated in their dealings with the bureaucracy of their local authority or some other other public body and, having stumbled onto our website, are asking for help or advice as to what they might do next. Sometimes there are existing local groups or support networks they can connect with but sometimes these aren’t available. One option that I don’t usually recommend is that they start a new group –  how much information can you include in an email? Grateful then, for this ‘starter pack’ from the Communities Channel Scotland.


SCDC, Communities Channel

Forming a community group

Much of the advice on Communities Channel Scotland is aimed at community groups or organisations. But what if you are at an earlier stage than this? You may know others with the same interest or passion but don’t know what to do next. Or you may not have found others to join up with yet. This short guide explains the benefits of working as an organised group, and provides some advice and links to help you on your way.

Why form a group?

An example of where people have been forming community groups is in response to Covid-19Being an organised community group makes it easier to take action in your community for the following reasons:

You will know who is committed to taking action with you and find it easier to agree who will do different tasks.

It helps to have regular meetings in place in which your activities can be planned and you can check on progress.

The wider community will find a named, organised group more easy to relate to than if you are less organised.

Being an organised group with a name makes it easier to do other things that will help you, such as get funding and to influence decisions.

Where to start?

If you want to form a group it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Hopefully, you will know people in your community who have a similar interest. If you don’t, are there any existing groups or support organisations that might share your interest or have the same background? (A good way of finding out about support groups and organisations is to contact your local ‘third sector interface’ – see the advice and support section below).

If no existing groups or support exist locally, perhaps you could place an advert in the local library or other public venue. Social media is another useful way to find those who have similar concerns or ideas.

Once you have found likeminded people, you could arrange to meet informally at first and then start to think about how to take things forward. The sorts of things you might want to discuss at first are:

Who you are

You might know what you are trying to do, but others will want to know which community you represent, including people who aren’t in your group and anyone who makes decisions affecting you and your community.

Your community can be any of the following:

  • a community of place (e.g. a neighbourhood, village);
  • a community of identity (people who share similar experiences such as disabled people, minority communities, fathers); and/or
  • a community of interest (people who have a common social, cultural, environmental or recreational interest).

It will also help to state clearly that you are open to other people joining from your community.

Your purpose

Although the people in your new group will likely share similar concerns and issues, it will be good to agree on a clear purpose that other people can understand and get behind.

Although the bus service is important to you, it is good to think about what you are trying to achieve in the long term, such as reducing social isolationIt will also be helpful to think in terms of the longer-term change you want to see. For instance, if your concern is to do with a bus service being stopped you might want to think about what it is that taking the service away might lead to, such as increased social isolation. Then, your group can be open to finding new ways of reducing isolation, such as a community meeting place, on top of any work to prevent the reduction of the bus service.

Finally, bear in mind that your group will be much more likely to find support if it aims to benefit the wider community, and not only the members of your group. This includes support from other community members, funders, decision makers or support organisations.

How you will be organised

This is where things get a bit trickier and some of the sources of support listed below will be useful. How you set yourself up as a group will depend on your community and purpose.

It might be fine to remain a relatively informal group, but in order to do some things you will need to be more formally organised. This includes being able to apply for some sources of support or funding and to carry out more ambitious activities such as taking over a local building using the Community Empowerment Act.

More formal options include becoming a registered charity and having a constitution. Some of the support listed below will help you get started.

Advice and Support

You could get in touch with your local organisation that supports voluntary organisations (sometimes called third sector interfaces) to ask if they support groups starting out. Click here for a list of local third sector interfaces. There may also be smaller local networks that could offer support.

Some third sector interfaces provide guidance you can download. For instance, Skye and Lochalsh Council for Voluntary Organisations produced the Community Toolkit, which contains advice on starting a group. It’s not being updated anymore, but can be downloaded here.

There’s also a national organisation, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). SCVO offers online advice about starting a group.

There may also be national ‘umbrella’ organisations or networks who work in the area you are interested in and who may offer support around setting up your group. SCVO has created a directory of such organisations.

The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) provides guides for becoming a charity. This takes you through the different stages, including considering whether or not your group should become a charity. OSCR also has a contact page.

Your local authority (or ‘council’) may provide support for community groups. This support is usually called ‘community development’, ‘community learning and development’ (CLD), or sometimes ‘community engagement’.

Many new groups have sprung up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in order to support vulnerarable people in their communities. Some advice on setting up a group can be found on Mutual-Aid UK’s website. Communities Channel Scotland has been compiling other resources for groups responding to Covid-19. Click here to take a look.

You can also find more guidance and information elsewhere on Communities Channel Scotland. For instance, see our Growing Your Group section.