Starting a Community Group

I received an email from Ros, a regular reader, asking the following question:

Hi Gavin
How are you? I have been reading your blog for a little while now and think it is great. 
I was hoping you could give me some advise.
I am interested in forming some sort of sustainable living/gardening group at Wangi Wangi where I live. I have been looking at the Melton Sustainable Living Group.
I looked at joining Sustainable living Australia but am not sure that is the way I wish to go. I know they do some great work but I am thinking the annual subscription for local members should stay in and be used in the local area.
Would you be able to give me some advise on how your group was set up etc.
Appreciate any information and guidance you can give me

So I will answer the email via this post.

First things first.  Your reason for starting a community group.  My reason was to meet like minded people who wanted to learn about sustainable living or who were already some way down the path.

Secondly, gather at least 5 people and have an informal meeting.  The reason for 5 people is so that you can incorporate later if required.  The first meeting for our group was held around our dinning table, like lots of great groups usually do.  It was in March 2009.  We had a great discussion and finally decided on the name and what we were going to try and achieve.  We messed around with some ideas for a vision and a mission statement which were essential for us to understand our purpose.  This is what we came up with in the first month.

The members of Melton Sustainable Living Group believe in changing the world by thinking globally, but by acting locally. MSLG will bring sustainable living to Melton ensuring a cleaner, greener and more resilient community for all.

MSLG will foster positive change by serving the community with communication and education of sustainable living methods in an urban and suburban environment. MSLG will provide practical knowledge about how to lower personal emissions, energy efficiency, growing your own food garden, renewable energy, frugal living, rainwater harvesting and the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle).

In essence this is a process of relocalising all essential elements that our community needs to sustain itself and thrive. It builds local resilience in the face of the potentially damaging effects of Peak Oil while reducing the community’s carbon footprint. In this way, we can address both Peak Oil and Climate Change.

The next step was to get some money behind us so that get established.  However, as I found out quickly, to apply for grants, you have to at least apply for Incorporation, at least in Victoria.  I did some research and found out about the pros and cons of becoming a legal entity.  I discussed this at our next meeting (we were meeting fortnightly at this stage) and the other members agreed to proceed.  There are a few forms to fill in, a vision and mission statement to draft (we already had one), and pay the fee.  This will vary from state to state.

From there we incorporated as a non-profit community group on the 7th May 2009 where I was elected/nominated President of the group, and we started up our own website.  The incorporation gave us access to community grants from our local council and we have spent the initial $2500 establishment grant on getting ourselves up and running.  These are some of the workshops and events that we held in our first year;
  • Energy Efficency in the home demonstration
  • Organic gardening demonstration
  • Visit to CERES Community Evironment Park
  • Presentation by ecoMaster, Gisborne
  • Presentation by myself titled “Saving money with Energy Efficiency”
  • Presentation to the Caroline Springs Lions Club about Sustainable Living.
  • A stand at the Environment Hub during the Djerrawarrah Festival to promote the group.
We have also appeared in the local press many times now and have found this a good avenue to promote our activities and raise community awareness about the issues of climate change and peak oil.  Have a read of the articles below if you like;
The Melton Shire Council also gave us other support, for instance, 3 free community room hires so that we could hold “awareness meeting” to get the word out that we existed.  We have now have 25 keen members, a marquee, display boards for photos of sustainable living stuff and have an alliance with the Australian Conservation Foundation Greenhome program.
So in summary, we did kind of did this
Get together
Get organised
Get Incorporated
Get grants
Get known
Get Active!
Well Ros, I hoped that I answered your question.  Once a group is up and running the official stuff is easy, keeping the momentom going is the challenging part!  Most of all, keep all members involved and leverage off of each others skills and strengths.

I also hope that I have inspired you a little to take the plunge.  Just remember that every great journey begins with a single step!


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