Before you set up a community group: six things to consider

From: Birmingham Community Matters

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I have an idea for a community group. What should I do first?

So you have an exciting idea to set up a community group in Birmingham – that’s brilliant news. We’re here to help you start and run a thriving group that makes life better for the people who access it.

Before you start, do have a look at our six questions below. We have written these questions based on the experience of our Birmingham Community Matters (BCM) helpers, our team, and people we have worked with.

We believe that, by thinking about your answers now, you can save time and energy when you come to plan the structure and workings of your group.

1. What are your reasons for setting up your group?
2. Is anyone else doing the work you’d like to do?
3. Are other people interested in joining your group?
4. Have you got other people to help you?
5. Do you have the capacity to take this on?
6. Do you need to earn a living from this?

1. What are your reasons for setting up your group?

Have a think about why you’re keen to start a group. Your passions behind it. The experience and unique insights that make you the right person/people to set up this particular group. 

Also, what are the gaps you’re looking to fill in terms of activities or services? Have you carried out research yet – however informal – to see who shares your interests? 

We find that the most successful groups grow from an identifiedneed’ or an existing gathering of people. Plus, you’re more likely to secure funding later on if you can show there is a genuine need for your group.

2. Is anyone else doing the work you’d like to do?

Whatever your driving force or cause, it’s possible (even likely) that there is another organisation already working hard to serve it. We encourage you to join them. Don’t duplicate effort or create unnecessary competition and admin if you could instead offer your valuable time, skills and energy to support an existing group.

Volunteering can be extremely rewarding. Check out BVSC’s Community Noticeboard for volunteering opportunities in Birmingham. Reach Volunteering also has a database of voluntary roles – and, if you’re aged over 50, Rest Less is another good place to search.

3. Are other people interested in joining your group?

Community groups need community. It’s a good idea to survey potential members first: talk to them in person or in local Facebook groups. Gauge the local appetite for everything you’re hoping to offer. Is there a significant number of people whom you know are interested in taking part in your activities?

4. Have you got other people to help you?

A community group comprises three or more people, who are ideally not related to one another, and who have a shared goal that benefits the community.

So we always recommend you begin by teaming up with at least two others who share your vision and enthusiasm for the group, and who have the skills to help you lead it. You don’t all need to deliver the group’s activities or services. But everyone needs to be involved in its decision making and administration. 

It’s important to note that an individual cannot apply for grant funding to run community activities, whereas community groups and charities usually can.

5. Do you have the capacity to take this on?

You definitely have skills and enthusiasm – but do you have enough time and energy? Organising activities and looking after people is rewarding yet exhausting. To run your group safely and correctly, you will also have to meet regulatory and legal requirements. You must allow time to understand processes and absorb new information, and keep up to date with changes. No person on their own has everything needed to make a success of this. So it’s important you identify your gaps and find people who will help you.

6. Do you need to earn a living from this?

If you need to earn a living from your idea, then setting up a community group probably isn’t right for you at this point. Community groups are volunteer-led, and the people running them cannot be paid for their work. They can only be reimbursed for reasonable expenses, such as travel costs.

You may like to explore the idea of starting a social enterprise instead, such as a community interest company, or becoming self-employed and seeking to be paid for the good work you want to do.

We’ve listed details of where you can get support with setting up and running a social enterprise. See also the government information on working for yourself.

A note about choosing the structure of your group

A lot of people come to us with the idea to set up a charity. This is not something we usually recommend to groups just starting out. It comes with limits and legal responsibilities, and may not be the solution you need to get started.

It often makes sense to start out as a community group – the simplest structure you need to get going. And then you can look at other structures once your group has been up and running for a while.

We recommend reading this guidance from the Charity Commission about whether starting a charity is the best option to meet your

If you’ve considered all of the above and feel ready to start a community group …

… Or just want to talk through your options, BCM is here for you. We hold events across Birmingham where you can sit down with one of our BCM helpers – a volunteer with lots of relevant knowledge and experience – to explore your first steps. As you probably have other people ready to start the journey with you, please know they are very welcome to come along too.

See all our upcoming dates and venues.

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