Many of us have postponed all community work as restrictions continue right across the country, but many community groups have also been finding innovative ways to stay connected and continue working during this time of great uncertainty.
Regulations vary but what is common everywhere: We must remain cautious and keep our distance. As we adjust, we need to find ways to connect and build thriving communities from our homes, from our porches, on zoom calls or, if restrictions allow, in smaller groups, and while following health guidelines.
It’s become a little more difficult to build community but it’s more important than ever. If you want to start something, there is no reason to put it off completely. There are ways to get started. At the heart of every community project sits a passionate, committed team so that’s where you can start. Here are 6 steps to start a community project while physically distancing.
1. Learn more about the project you want to start
After lockdown, Renata Pitman from Pollinator Gardens Evanston, IL started to track wildlife in her community. Birds, bees, butterflies, as well as flowers or reptiles, became the center of attention on her daily walks. Renata’s pollinator garden is already up and running, but this could also be a great starting point for anyone thinking of starting a pollinator project. Take a look around and learn more about your own local environment.
Most of the organizations ChangeX works with have adapted to the new circumstances and have started to offer new resources and learning opportunities to make sure people can learn and stay active and connected while physically distancing.
2. Share what you’re learning with others
From here, you can get others involved, even if it is at a distance. Renata didn’t just track wildlife herself, she also kept her community team engaged while they couldn’t meet up. She encouraged everyone to use an app to help track wildlife together.
Is there a small thing you could get started with, that doesn’t require meeting but can engage people around the issue you’re passionate about? Even if you just invite a couple of neighbours and friends to join you to exchange observations, ideas and lessons via text or an online group, you are already building a community.
Want to take it a step further and offline? The Irish social enterprise Grow It Yourself challenged people all across Ireland who have some food-growing skills to get others into growing some of their own. More than 5,000 people started to share seeds and seedlings with their neighbours and exchanged knowledge and experience on how to grow their first tomatoes and courgettes. Some of these new growers who joined the Grow It Forward program can’t wait now to join the community garden in town or start their own one.
3. Start to plan beyond
Once you have the attention of a small group of people, find out who will take the next step with you. “Wouldn’t it be great, once this is all over, to start a pollinator garden in the area?” Just start the conversation, share your early ideas, and see who is as excited as you. Who enjoys plotting plans to take this private learning project to a new level.
On ChangeX, every idea has a 5-step guide that gives you an overview of how to set up the community project of your choice.
4. Plan an online meetup to plot a plan
At this point, meeting up online will hopefully make sense. There may be a few people in the group, who are more enthusiastic than others. Just keep it open, invite everyone to join, maybe create a new group with those people who want to go on and build a working team. If the idea is part of ChangeX, you can register right on ChangeX.org and set up your working group there.
5. Hold a high-energy call
Bring people together wherever they feel most comfortable. We’ve all become much more familiar with tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangout. (If someone in the team is struggling with technology, maybe help them to tackle this challenge beforehand. The Getting Started KIT on ChangeX has a lot of resources to help you teach others how to use different types of technology.)
It’s a little harder to create positive energy in a virtual room compared to an in-person meeting but embrace the challenge, even if it feels a little unnatural at first. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- When setting up the call, send your team members guidance on how to take part in the call depending on the tool you’re using. Ask them to test their sound and camera before the call. You could even set-up 5 minute test calls with everyone to make sure they’re is comfortable with using the tool.
- Send attendees some information about what’s involved in setting up the project in advance (e.g. our 5-step guide and the challenge guide).
- As the team lead, you should make sure you use a computer or phone with a camera and a stable internet connection, giving yourself the best possible starting point.
- Test your tech before you start the call.
- You can just follow the agenda in your starter guide for your online-meeting. (Find the agenda here).
- At the beginning of the call, give everyone the chance to introduce themselves and/or to say why they are interested in the project .
- Ask people to turn off their sound/microphone when not talking.
- At the end of the call, sum up any decisions that have been made.
- Follow up with everyone via email or by sharing an update on your ChangeX page.
6. Open up slowly according to distancing regulations
Our communities will open up gradually and the most important thing is that we continue to follow public health advice. While regulations like wearing masks and physical distancing will stay with us for a long time, there will be a time, when we can meet again in small and eventually bigger groups, particularly outdoors. Though everyone should keep themselves informed about the current guidelines, there is no harm, for you as the group leader, in forwarding the guidance from official sources in advance of a meeting. Ask people to stay at home if they have any symptoms like a cough or fever and repeat the rules and expectations very briefly at the beginning of a meeting so that everyone can feel comfortable. Most importantly, enjoy your journey of giving back to your community!
What’s your experience with running community groups or even starting new community projects during COVID? Have you found new ways to engage people? We’d love to hear and share your lessons and tips. Just write to us at [email protected]