Setting up a community group

This module covers:

  • The practical steps involved in setting up a group
  • Writing a constitution

How to set up your organisation

Once you have a group of people together and have selected the most appropriate type of organisation1, have a look online at the steps involved and seek help from your local Third Sector Interface, which will be well practiced in helping similar groups. You will need to agree the aims and purpose of your organisation.

You will need to have a constitution for your group. Depending on the type of organisation which you have selected, this could be a simple, standard constitution or something much more complex. For most structures, you can adopt and adapt model documents to suit your needs and aims. Even if you remain as an unincorporated association, it is vital that you consider what your organisation’s rules will be.

If possible, try to speak to other community organisations and find out how they have benefitted or been limited by their organisation’s structure.

You will need to hold a meeting to draw up your constitution and select the members for your organisation. This does not need to happen immediately, but it is good to get the ball rolling at this stage so that you have a well-organised group ready to deal with the developer and are well-equipped to process the funds when they start coming in.

Some communities will choose to go through all negotiations with an informal community group, but you must have a fully operational, constituted group in advance of drawing up any agreements.

Often you may find that you are overstretching your volunteers. There are solutions to this, so don’t be put off. You can involve an external party or a local group with an appropriate role. You might want to select a group for this purpose and ask the developer to fund their involvement. The fairest way to find a group for administering the funds might be by putting the work out to tender.

How to write a constitution

The first step is to look at some sample model constitutions – contact Local Energy Scotland who can help you find similar groups’ constitutions.

Secondly, think of what you are trying to achieve in your community – this should be coming through in your development plan. Support for this may be available from coordinating bodies such as DTAS or CDS, depending on what organisation structure you have selected. It is critical that your constitution allows you to legally do everything that you may plan to do. For example, if you wish to undertake trading you will need to ensure you can legally trade. You may also wish to consider how any funds received are to be used. You may wish to consult a lawyer at this stage to confirm that your Memorandum of Association and Constitution are appropriate.

Useful skills

It will make a difference to your group if you have skilled volunteers able to commit time, for example, those with particular knowledge of law, accountancy, IT etc. Think of how you can utilise individuals’ skills in the best way possible.

The group has to be open to any interested individuals in the community; however, it is important to look at recruiting members who possess the skills you require. Do you need someone with a legal or financial background? Do you have a representative for young people? Do you have anyone with specific knowledge of energy efficiency? NB: You could pay a consultant to take on some of this work, or to help you carry out community consultations.

What if there is a group already in place?

You may find that there is already some degree of community body in place- often a developer will first approach a community council, or several community councils, for the initial discussions. This may be a good vehicle for initial discussions, but do not feel confined to this group. Consider setting up a group specifically for community benefit discussions. This way you can cover a wider area, involve individuals who might not be aware of the community council’s role, and work together to plan fund spend.

Although you may feel it is diluting the fund to include other community council areas, limiting spend to a small area means that good projects could go unfunded, and may impede any strategic approach.

In some situations you may find there are many groups or individuals wanting to be part of the process; or you may find it is very difficult to engage anyone in the local community. Approach both situations by advertising the group openly and ensuring all processes are transparent and accountable.

Ready to deal with developer

Ongoing communication is vital. Each developer’s approach will vary, and it is important that you work with them to find an agreement that suits both parties. You will be able to present a much more coherent view if you organise yourself into one ‘community benefit fund’ organisation, rather than acting as separate community councils.

Further resources

Setting up a community group is covered in detail in the Skye and Lochalsh Community Toolkit: http://www.slcvo.org.uk/Community- Toolkit/ctoolkit?PageName=Setting-up- Group-or-Project

1 Information available in Module 3