When setting up a new project, it is important to research what you will need to do to form an effective organisation and to keep everybody safe.
There are various different organisational structures that you can look at for your group or project. e.g. Constituted not for profit voluntary or community group, Community Interest Company, Charity, Social Enterprise, Cooperative group etc.
It is best to seek advice from your local voluntary support organisation for specific help as each groups needs and situation will be different.
Our organisational history
Petworth Community Garden started out as a non incorporated voluntary community group, and was supported to create a constitution and appropriate structure including committee, relevant policies and insurance, by Chichester Volunteer service, (now Voluntary Action Arun and Chichester VAAC). This was appropriate for us at the start as we were a very small group with little or no funding, or experience, and did not need more complicated structures. We formed a committee from our volunteers, who met monthly and made decisions as to the focus, development and running of the garden and each had valuable input into the creation of our project.
However, as we started to grow and receive larger pots of funding, (particularly the Lottery funding) for our projects, we had a legal and safety need to incorporate. Without this our committee members would be personally and financially liable and therefore very vulnerable and our increasing income gave us a legal responsibility to form a company or charity.
We researched the different structures and, again with the help of VAAC, chose to become a Community Interest Company. Our structure changed from a committee group of nine, to a directorate of four members who meet weekly and are responsible for the day to day management of the project, the finances and keeping the project ‘on mission’. We have also kept our monthly meetings which are accessible to a larger ‘membership group’ who all input ideas and feedback for the directors and are kept up to date with developments.
When working with a community group, it is vital to have policies and procedures to keep every one safe.
As a basic, you will need a constitution, setting out your mission statement and aims, and relevant organisational and committee procedures you will follow.
Health and Safety policy
This is a requirement and necessary to keep everyone safe and aware of correct procedures.
Accident and incident forms
It is important to keep records of accidents or incidents however small, to keep everyone safe and legally protected.
Documenting your commitment and procedures to protect the environment.
Equality and Diversity policy
Outlining your commitment and procedures to ensure appropriate accessibility and equality within your group.
Child protection policy
Vital if children are involved in your project.
Safeguarding vulnerable adults policy
Necessary if working with more vulnerable members of the community, adults with learning difficulties, people with physical or mental health issues or disabilities, the frail elderly etc.
Other relevant policies:
These may include, Lone worker policy, disciplinary and grievance policy, alcohol and drugs policy amongst others.
It is advisable to contact your local volunteer service for updated templates and advice as to what may be necessary for your organisation.
Copies of these policies must be given to all core members and staff, and in volunteer handbooks, and discussions as to what that means and how those procedures will be implemented.
It’s all about looking after people, and it is no use having the bits of paper, but not protecting your group effectively.
DBS (criminal record checks)
If you are working with community groups it is important to have DBS checks for core staff and members. You may need to find an umbrella organisation to work with for these, your local volunteer service can advise you on this.
Public liability insurance is a basic necessity. You may also need to look at buildings and contents insurance, or project vehicle insurance, and if employing staff, Employers Liability Insurance. It is advisable to enquire with your local volunteer service as to local insurers with experience in community and charity work, and what insurance may be relevant for your project.
Transparent and accurate accounts are absolutely vital, from the smallest project. You will need a named treasurer and be able to keep accurate records with invoices and receipts of every transaction. If you are grant funded, each grant body will need to know how you have spent their grant and if it is according to your projection, and you will need this information at a moment’s notice. End of year accounts will need to be drawn up and presented to the group and relevant bodies. A professional bookkeeper will make the process simple and pain free and is well worth finding, either as a volunteer or a paid position.
Volunteers support package
It’s a good idea to write a welcome pack, with info about your project, outlining your volunteers roles, relevant policies and procedures and benefits to volunteers, such as training etc
A volunteer enrolment form
Asking for relevant information such as allergies, medical conditions, emergency contact info is a vital part of safeguarding your members.
A photo consent form
This is also necessary if you take photos of your project for monitoring, publicity or website use etc. It is particularly vital to have parents permission for children.
This may all seem daunting at first, after all your experience may lean more towards gardening than policies (as ours did), however, with the right support and advice, it can be relatively simple and straightforward, and is such an important tool in keeping everyone safe.
We don’t like to throw reams of paper at new members as it can be very off putting, but a simple volunteer form to establish emergency contact and basic info with a volunteer pack to follow is a gentle way in.