If you have a passion for your local green space, have ideas on how to improve it or want to see more people use it, you might want to find out if there’s an active Friends Group which you could join.
We’ve witnessed amazing things from Friends Groups, from lifelong friendships to increased confidence and new skills.
Friends Groups are local volunteers who work together to undertake practical projects in green spaces such as a parks, allotments or nature reserves. Together, they arrange events, care for it and fundraise to improve their valued green space.
Friends Groups are an essential factor in keeping our parks and green spaces healthy and welcoming for everyone and they are even more important in light of the scale of budget cuts facing local authorities.
With over 7,000 Friends Groups in the UK, each with a fantastic group of volunteers, there may be one near you already. But, if there isn’t, we’ve put together this guide to help you get started.
Part 1 – Getting going
- Recruiting a small group of people
- Getting active
Part 2 – Becoming more established
- writing a constitution
- members, committees and roles
- setting up a bank account
- insurance and health and safety
- holding effective meetings
You can also find lots of help and resources on the Parks Community website.
Part 1 – Getting going
There will be others who also value your local green space and are interested in helping it to thrive. Think about what they might be interested in (improving play facilities, biodiversity or safety) and reach out via your community social media groups, posters and word of mouth.
Inviting them to meet in the green space or a supportive café, you can together decide where to start. Something cheap and fun eg fancy dress litter pick, will get attention from more people and perhaps grow the group, as well as getting you of to a great start. You might even get some local media coverage.
It is important to follow up with your next move, either another litter pick and make it a regular thing, or perhaps responding to another idea shared in your small group of volunteers. Momentum can be really helpful in the early days.
At this point, it could also be helpful to let the landowner know what you’re doing, this is often your Council and may also be able to help once they see you doing things.
Part 2 – Becoming more established
When you reach the point of wanting to fund raise, you will need to consider becoming a more formal, constituted group.
A) Write a constitution
A constitution sets out exactly how your Friends Group will be managed, your aims and objectives and how meetings will be run. The constitution should also set out the goals your group want to achieve.
Don’t worry if you don’t get this right first time, you can make it part of your constitution to review it each year at your AGM, making sure it grows and develops as your group does.
For more help with constitution, get in touch with us or your local infrastructure support organisation which offers practical support, resources or advice to a wide range of community groups.
A sample constitution is available on the Parks Community website
B) Source members, a committee and define roles
When constituted, your volunteers become the group’s members and, to build the membership, you may want to speak to people who regularly visit your green space, community champions and activists and local councillors. Have informal chats about their vision for the green space and whether they would be interested and available to help develop your Friends Group.
Your members’ first meeting is known as the ‘Annual General Meeting’ (AGM) and is the place where you to adopt your constitution and elect committee members. A committee makes sure that the group is run effectively and is elected by the membership. Groups are often small in the early days so find themselves electing each other, and the members are the same as the committee.
From the committee, 3 people are elected to take on the specific roles and responsibilities of a Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer, typically for a one-year period at a time. Before electing, it is helpful to explore the members’ skill sets and capacity to see who is best suited for each role.
The Chairperson helps to organise meetings, agree what will be discussed and makes sure the meetings run smoothly and allow everyone to play their part. Outside of meetings they support the other committee members and volunteers.
The Secretary takes notes during committee meetings (also known as meeting minutes), these should include key discussion points and actions. Meeting minutes should be shared with the committee and once approved, made accessible to all group members, typically by circulating on email or posting on a website/social media account. By capturing this information members have accurate records of meetings, helping ensure the Group stays on track. The Secretary is also responsible for making sure all of the legal documents are up to date, e.g. insurance.
The Treasurer is responsible for the finances of the group. This will include managing the bank account and ensuring that all receipts are recorded. If the group undertakes any fundraising, the Treasurer will manage funding bids and financial planning as well. They are responsible for producing an end of year accounts summary at the AGM; outlining all income and outgoings.
You should hold an AGM every year as a way of re-electing committee members, as a place to present your annual report and your accounts to other members of the group.
Remember that every member of the Friends Group has a voice, and committee meetings should be a safe place where ideas can be shared, people can learn and the community can agree plans for the future.
For more help with committees, specific roles and AGMs, get in touch with us or your local infrastructure support organisation.
You can also find more information on the AGM and specific roles on the Parks Community website
C) Set up a bank account
Following your first AGM, you can set up a bank account so that funds raised can be managed appropriately. The account should be in the name of the group and will need at least two people (usually both committee members, including the treasurer) to act as signatories each time a transaction is made.
D) Arrange insurance and consider health and safety risks
Every time a public activity, such as a community event or fun day, is organised, public liability insurance is needed to cover any accidents which may occur on a public site. Groups typically arrange insurance cover on an annual basis using an online broker.
Risk Assessments are also required for any activities you organise. This process helps to identify potential risks associated and put in place any measures to reduce those risks.
For more help with insurance and health and safety, get in touch with us or your local infrastructure support organisation.
E) Hold effective meetings
At your AGM, you can decide how often you want to meet as a committee, this may be monthly, quarterly or just twice a year. Your committee meetings are where all the decisions will be made about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. It is important that these meetings are effective and allow everyone to feel that they have contributed to the group decision making.
The Chairperson has a key role here, working with the Secretary to organise the meetings, making sure that everyone is able to contribute to putting the agenda together and then ensuring the discussions at the meeting are conducted with respect.
A code of conduct can be helpful here, outlining what behaviour is expected during meetings and usually references respecting each other, use of mobile phones and sets the precedent for the way meetings are run. This may also include rules such as one person speaking at a time, raise a hand before speaking etc, however most groups are able to operate more informally. It’s important that you agree these rules and share them at the start of each meeting so that new members are aware of what’s expected of them.
For a sample meeting agenda, see the Parks Community website
Existing groups to take inspiration from
Set up after the opening of West Gorton Community Park in 2020, this committee works hard to organise and host regular events and activities for their local community.
So far, this group has hosted Christmas light switch-ons and Easter egg hunts.
Formed in 2004, this group host a wide range of activities in the community, from sharing the local history of the park to hosting walks and planting beautiful wildflowers.
Their goal is to keep renovating the park and discover more about the interesting history of the area.
Created in 2006, this group is committed to protecting their green space from invasive species, and enhancing the area with beautiful native plants.
They also host weekly wellbeing walks so residents can get to know others in the community.