Setting up a Residents Association or Group A guide for Residents Setting up a Residents Association or Group Summary A Residents Association or Group is a voluntary group of people, living within a specific area They come together to take up issues of community concern and to represent the views of tenants and residents to the Westcountry A Residents Association or Group makes campaigning more effective, keeps residents informed, and greatly assists community building A Residents Association or Group can also make a great contribution to the social life of an area It is not difficult to set up a Residents Association or Group: this information sheet gives a step by step guide There is plenty of help available to set up a Residents Association or Group Setting up a Residents Association or Group This information sheet has been written for residents of Westcountry Housing Association who are interested in setting up a Residents Association or Group. It explains what a Residents Association and a Residents Group are, what can be achieved and how to go about setting one up. Further advice and support is available from the Resident Involvement Team or from the Housing Officers who can be contacted on 01803 200300. What are Residents Associations and Residents Groups? Residents Associations A voluntary group of people living within a specific area who come together to take up issues of common concern and represent views to Westcountry and other bodies or to organise community events. Residents Associations have a written constitution and code of conduct, elected officers and often open a bank account. Residents Groups A voluntary group of people living within a specific area who come together, most often, to organise community events or to meet regularly with Housing Officers to undertake regular estate inspections. They are less formal groups who usually decide who will chair and who will take notes at the start of each meeting. They usually have agreed Terms of Reference and ground rules for meetings. Why start a Residents Association or Residents Group? There are many reasons why people living in one area may get together to form and association or group. For example: To campaign for something (eg play facilities, somewhere to meet as a community) To campaign against something (eg problems with traffic, antisocial behaviour) To gain a greater voice than you would have as an individual when talking to Westcountry and other bodies about things you would like to see changed To arrange outings and social events To gain or support a sense of ‘community’ by meeting and helping other people To keep people in the area informed of issues that affect them To harness and develop the organisational and other talents of community members To get involved with what other groups may be doing Step One - Getting everyone’s views The first step is to see if enough residents in your area are interested in forming an association or group. Speak to as many people as you can before doing anything else by, for example: Door knocking, over the fence chats etc Going to the shops that your community uses (eg Post Office, local shopping precinct) Going to other places where people meet socially eg community centres and clubs. Your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) can give you names of voluntary organisations working within your community Going to religious centres in the area – churches, mosques etc Going to places children and young people and their parents attend eg play groups, youth clubs etc. You must get permission from the leaders of these groups who will stay with you when you speak to these groups. Never approach children or young people on your own. If you manage to speak to people in all these groups you’ll get a good idea of how much support there is for starting a group. What do you want from people? Do not be put off by people’s initial reactions or comments. Although some people will be enthusiastic, many will be non-committal and some may be downright hostile. Residents may have a variety of reasons why they do not want initially to be involved in the group. But if you do set up and continue to provide everyone in the area with information and the opportunity to become involved, more people will normally start to take part. As long as a reasonable number of people express an interest in setting up the group, that is all you need. What you are asking for initially is agreement: o That the issues affecting the community are the same issues that concern you o That it would be a good idea to set up a group o To come to an initial meeting or, an interest in knowing the outcome of an initial meeting You only need around six people to attend the first meeting to have enough to set up a group. It does not help to be too pushy, but it always helps to reassure people that attending a meeting does not mean they will be roped into doing anything specific! Gathering opinions can be a time-consuming process and will need confidence and a thick skin. Obviously, if there are already a few of you who know each other and have the same aim, then it would make sense to do this together, and, if possible find others to help. Step Two - Talk to Westcountry Westcountry encourages the formation of Resident Associations and Groups and strongly supports resident involvement with services provided by Westcountry and with community development. Once you know there are enough people interested in forming an association or group contact your housing officer or scheme manager. They will be able to help you with: o Designing and printing leaflets, photocopying, typing etc o A starter pack containing examples of a constitution, terms of reference, code of conduct and ground rules for meeting o Help with translations, interpreters o Help and advice about accessibility o A meeting room for your first meeting if needed (or funds for hiring one) o Training in setting up and running a group They will also explain to you about the following criteria that you will need to meet before Westcountry will recognise your group: You must provide evidence that you have tried to reach all sections of the community within your area. You must include an equality and diversity statement in your constitution or terms of reference and be willing to participate in training events on this subject. Ensure your aims and objectives for the group are non-political and are based on trying to improve the quality of life for all the people in your area. If your group handles money in any way ie donations from other residents then you must either have a bank account with at least two signatories or the group should agree someone to keep a ledger book recording what is donated and spent with receipts of all purchases and a second person (who is not a relative or close friend of the other person) who regularly checks the ledger book. WHA does not accept liability or responsibility for money handling. The group must take responsibility for this. Westcountry gives a £50 start up grant to any resident association who meet these criteria. Your Housing Officer or Scheme Manager can also arrange for someone to work with you to offer additional support with setting up your group. Step Three - Planning the first public meeting Once you have talked to everyone in your area, spoken to your Housing Officer or Scheme Manager and have got a firm commitment from enough people to attend a first meeting, this now has to be arranged. This could normally be in someone’s home. Use the people who have shown an initial interest to plan the group’s first public meeting. During this initial planning meeting someone will need to act as ‘chair’. Even if a meeting is informal, someone needs to make sure that the meeting keeps to the point. People will feel that the meeting has been worthwhile and has achieved something if ideas have been discussed carefully and decisions made. The person chairing needs to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. Someone needs to take notes of the main decisions made at the meeting and who has agreed to do what. It is also useful to keep an attendance sheet with people’s contact details (with their consent) for future reference. Reasons for the planning meeting When you meet, you will need to agree what you want to achieve in the public meeting and how you can achieve it. This could include: Getting agreement for the formation of the group Whether you will form a Residents Association or a Residents Group Naming the group Deciding on the group’s aims Electing a committee (for a Residents Association) Agreeing a Constitution and / or Terms of Reference The first public meeting will be the occasion when you will launch your association or group publicly so you will want to plan it properly. By the end of the first planning meeting you may already have decided to form the group and made decisions about what issues to tackle first. However, the next step must be a public meeting to give people the opportunity to come and say what they think. If you decide to miss out on a public meeting because you think you have got everything sorted at this stage you risk assuming that the few of you actually represent everyone’s views in the area. This may not necessarily be the case. Step Four - Running your first public meeting This is the occasion when you will launch the association or group publicly, so you will want to run it properly. The basic rules for doing this are outlined below. Publicity Once you know what you want to achieve at the public meeting, make sure you make this clear in your meeting adverts. Say what the meeting is for but do not overload the adverts with information: Do say clearly where and when the meeting will be held Do try to get people curious and interested, but Do not bore them with too much detail You will also need to make sure people know how to contact you for more information Date and time of meeting Think about who you want to attend the meeting. Do you just want local residents, or do you also want to get along people from other community groups, or local councillors etc? You’ll need to think carefully about where and when to hold the meeting if you want everyone from the area – including young people, elderly people, single parents with young children etc – to have the opportunity to be there. Arranging the date and time to suit everyone will be quite difficult if some people are working, have children to look after or do not like coming out at night etc but with thought you will get the best time and place to suit the most people. Place of meeting The place chosen could be a room in a local community centre, school, church hall or a room provided by Westcountry (this could be a community lounge in one of our sheltered housing schemes). You need to make sure the room is easy for people who have difficulty walking or who use wheelchairs or have pushchairs. It is not a good idea to hold a meeting in a place where alcohol is served as this could prevent some people from attending for personal, religious or legal reasons. The agenda Make sure at your planning meeting you have prepared an agenda, have agreed who will chair the meeting and who is making notes. The main items on the agenda will be to get support to formally set up a group, to agree the aims and objectives, to get formal agreement on who will be Chair, Secretary and Treasurer for the first year (for a Residents Association) or to agree how meetings will run and agree how the group will handle money. Although the items discussed at the public meeting will cover issues discussed at the initial planning meeting, its main aim is to see if there is enough local support for the setting up of a group, and to agree your group’s initial priorities. The public meeting should be seen as the start for the association or group. Don’t be disappointed if attendance at the meeting is poor. Although you may be enthusiastic and have worked hard to organise the meeting, many people will be very uncertain about whether or not to join in. It make some time for people to become confident enough to take part, but this should happen eventually. --------------------------------------------------------- SAMPLE AGENDA Anywhere Estate Public Meeting (date / time / place) Agenda 1. Welcome and introduction 2. Apologies for absence 3. Why we need a Residents Association / Group 4. Choice of name 5. Agreeing the Constitution or Terms of Reference including membership requirements, code of conduct or ground rules Election of a committee (for an Association) - Chair - Vice Chair (if required) - Secretary - Treasurer 6. How the group will handle money 7. Plan of action 8. Date of first meeting of the committee (if applicable) 9. Date of the next general meeting 10. Any other business -------------------------------------------------------- Step by step planning list for arranging a public meeting 1. Arrange your initial planning meeting - this can be in someone’s home 2. Agree an agenda for the public meeting, and arrange a date and place where the meeting will be held 3. If you have decided to invite representatives from other bodies eg your community police officer, contact them and check they can attend 4. Book a venue for the meeting 5. Decide how to publicise the meeting, for example, prepare a leaflet and arrange for it to be printed, and / or prepare a poster to advertise the meeting 6. Arrange the distribution of the leaflet and / or posters (Give people at least one week’s notice of the meeting) 7. Contact local newspapers and local radio stations to publicise the meeting if you think this is necessary 8. Organise the meeting - Agree an agenda and check it with the person chairing the meeting - Check any motions to be proposed at the meeting - Make sure you have decided on who is going to take notes at the meeting - Decide who will record the names and addresses of everyone who attends the meeting 9. On the day get there early and make sure the room is open and the furniture is laid out as you want it After the meeting If the public meeting has agreed to set up a Residents Association or Group your next step is to get yourself properly organised. Always make sure the issues you take up or the projects you agree to work on reflect the interests of your members. Don’t forget to inform Westcountry that you have agreed to set up the Association or Group, giving them the name of the group, the name of someone they can contact and a copy of your constitution or terms of reference. Frequently Asked Questions How does setting up a Residents Association or Group in sheltered housing or supported housing differ from general housing schemes? Setting up a group in sheltered or supported housing schemes is no different from on estates. In some ways it is easier because you know what ‘area’ (ie the sheltered/supported scheme) your group will cover. Also the fact that most schemes will have a community room helps as this is obviously an ideal location for your ‘public’ meeting. It is still, however, just as important to get to everyone individually by door knocking etc. Don’t just assume a leaflet on the notice board will do. You should also make sure you talk to your scheme or project manager as they will be able to offer advice and support. Many supported housing schemes have very small numbers of residents. Even so, there is no reason why a small number should not set up a group. It is more likely that a Residents Group may be more appropriate as there may not be sufficient numbers of residents to form a committee. What legal regulations do Residents Associations and Residents Groups have to follow? Residents Associations and Groups are not governed by any legal requirements. Will we need to set up a bank account? Residents Associations will need to set up a bank account to receive the £50 start up grant from Westcountry. Residents Groups are strongly advised to set up a bank account if they are handling residents’ money in any way. Your group will need either a bank account or a ledger book with receipts before it can be recognised and supported by Westcountry. You will need to make sure there are at least two signatories for signing cheques or that a second person regularly checks the ledger book and receipts. Sometimes, especially with small, newly set up groups, two members of the same family may be officers of the committee. In this case you are advised that only one person from that family has the right to sign cheques. It is also common sense not for the two signatories to be close friends. WHA does not accept liability or responsibility for money handling. The group must take responsibility for this. Will we need insurance? Your group is not required to have insurance. However if you organise any formal outings or events you will need to inform Westcountry as soon as you know the details of it so that we can ensure you are covered by Westcountry’s public liability insurance. If you are given, or purchase any premises or equipment you will be responsible for insuring them. Is there a limit to the number of members a group can have? A group can be as small or as large as you want it to be. For example, it could cover a small sheltered housing scheme, one street or the whole of an estate. It is up to the residents to decide the area they want the group to cover. Should we invite Westcountry to the public meeting? That should be your own choice. Some residents are uneasy about inviting housing staff to the meeting because they think they may tend to steer things their way. If you think this might happen then don’t invite them! If you do decide to invite them take care not to let them dominate the meeting. Make sure the person chairing the meeting is a resident and it is the group members views you are obtaining. You may want to invite Westcountry to the meeting just to give advice or information, but make sure they know they have been invited for that purpose only. Will Westcountry want to put housing staff on the committee? Absolutely not! Westcountry will support the group to develop at its own pace and will only attend meetings by invitation from the group. Can someone who is a resident but who also works for Westcountry (eg a caretaker or scheme manager) be a member of the group? That will be the choice of the group but you need to guard against potential conflict of interest. Ideally they should be allowed to be members of the group, but not a member of the committee. Also, they should be told that they attend meetings as a resident and not as an employee of Westcountry. You can also say in your constitution or terms of reference that no-one employed by Westcountry can be elected onto the committee. Should leaseholders or other non Westcountry residents in the area be members of the group? If the group is going to deal with social and environmental issues as well as housing issues then it is best if everyone in the area is allowed to be in the group.
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