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Forming a community group - how to get started

Updated: 20 Oct 2014
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Could a community association benefit your neighbourhood?
Lisburn North community group
At the moment, we have contact with more than 600 community associations. This number is expected to continue to rise, with groups varying in size, role and areas of interest.

Why do you need a community group?

Some of the reasons people form a community group include:
  • to try to improve services for the communities they represent
  • to reinforce a common identity and give individuals a sense of belonging within an estate/neighbourhood
  • to liaise with statutory and voluntary agencies as representatives on behalf of their estate/neighbourhood
  • to facilitate contact between the local community and agencies such as the Housing Executive, district councils, Department of the Environment, Police and Social Services
  • to address the housing, social, economic and environmental needs of a given area
The step-by-step guide below will help those who may be thinking about forming a community association.  

Step 1 - Initial contact

This may be simply two or more residents, who feel that the formation of a community association would benefit their neighbourhood, coming together to discuss local issues.

Step 2 - Steering group

Get in touch with us and with Supporting Communities NI. Select a steering group of 7-15 residents (depending on the size of the area or estate). The steering group should carry out a community profile or survey of the area. The members of the steering group should be representative of the area in terms of tenants, owner-occupiers and all parts of the area. This will help in sharing the work when it comes to carrying out the survey.
You don't have to elect a chairperson or any other office bearers at this stage. However, it's easier if one or two members of the group act as leaders or spokespersons.

Step 3 - Local survey

Doing a local survey may seem like a huge job but it is very important.  It will give the steering group a clearer picture of the problems and issues in the area. It will also provide plenty of statistical information about the area, which will be important when it comes to approaching statutory and other agencies.

Step 4(a) - Draft survey results

Once you have completed the survey and drafted the results, send a draft copy of the survey report to the statutory bodies and ask for written comments. These can then be included in the final document.
The final document should normally include the following chapter headings:
  • Introduction
  • Reasons for survey and methodology
  • Survey analysis
  • Action plan
  • Appendices
The most important section of the report is the action plan. This highlights the main issues and concerns identified through the survey, and outlines how the community group will work with the relevant agences to find a solution. The action plan should have short, medium and long term objectives, with the primary focus being on tackling the short term objectives first.
When you elect a committee you can review these objectives on a regular basis. It is their job to monitor their progress and reprioritise them as necessary.

Step 4(b) - Preparation of a draft constitution

The steering group should also draft a constitution for Step 5.

Step 5(a) - Public meeting

Once you have completed the final survey report it is very important to communicate its results to the community. After all, it is their survey document.
This can be done in two ways:
  • launching the document formally, involving local press coverage, or
  • holding a public meeting to publicise the survey's results

Step 5(b) - Constituted group

The work of the steering group is now almost complete. The public meeting is the perfect opportunity to set up a fully recognised and constituted community association to represent the area.
Those involved with the steering group may well be elected to form the first committee. However, it is important to make sure that the committee is representative of the whole area and that everyone, who wishes to do so, has the opportunity to be elected on to the committee.
It is not necessary to elect the office bearers at this stage, as this can be done at the first committee meeting.

Step 6 - First committee meeting

Immediately following, or as soon as possible after, the public meeting, the newly formed community association should hold its first committee meeting where the following should be discussed and agreed:
  • election of office bearers
  • bank account and signatories
  • role of support agencies, such as the Housing Executive and Supporting Communities NI
  • guidelines for conduct
Advice and assistance are available on all of the above steps from us or from Supporting Communities NI