Fully involving the community is an important part of the sustainability of any community enterprise or asset transfer.
To successfully take on a community library, organisations will need substantial community support and must be very sure that there is a strong desire in the community to retain or develop the library service or building and make a commitment to its success.
Effective communication and sharing of information between local authorities transferring services, and community organisations seeking to take them on can help with positive engagement with the community.
Effective community involvement can reduce costs and generate greater community ownership of the facility. However, for most projects there is not one local community but a number of different communities which need to be approached in different ways and at different times.
Defining groups of people is important since it enables information and invitations to people to happen in a targeted way. It can also help to ‘manage’ some people who may not be positive about a project.
- Service users
- The wider community
- Other community based organisations
Neighbours will have important views on the existing site and will be aware of, for example, how people visit, problems with security and what activities create noise. Neighbours may also be important to get onside with a project when the time comes for planning applications, (the local planning department will ask neighbours for their views as part of the review of any planning applications submitted).
Near neighbours will be particularly affected during any building work and if the transfer will mean an increase or change in visitors to the site. Impacts on car parking and noise levels or a change in the time at which the site is used will affect them directly. For example, if you are proposing to extend services in the evening to run a club for young people, it may result in increased traffic and noise outside the building in the evenings when residents are at home.
Local communities are likely to be the biggest source of service users. Involving the local community at the planning stage with this in mind will enrich any proposal and improve the sense of ownership of the project.
If an existing library service is being transferred, the existing users are an obvious starting point for involving people. Providing people services that they want to use is critical to the ability of your organisation to succeed and develop.
It is worth considering too if there are other groups of “potential” service users that are not currently accessing the existing library services.
The local authority should have information about existing users. This may be useful in identifying which areas in the neighbourhood people are coming from, and which age groups are currently using the services. This can help identify groups of people who aren’t using library services so that they can be involved in discussions about how library services may be developed to be more appealing to them.
Members of the wider community may provide future volunteers, participants in fundraising events or job applicants. Wider community involvement in the facility will be key to creating volunteer commitment. The local media is an ideal ways of keeping the wider community informed about developments, as are public meetings.
Involving other community based organisations early on in the planning process can be helpful, not only because they can be a way of recruiting potential service users, but because they may have conflicting or complementary plans, useful knowledge or relevant experience. Ways of reaching out to other organisations include:
- Talks at existing groups, eg: school assemblies, community events.
- Holding a public meeting.
- Local radio, TV, newspapers, press releases.
- Letter to the local newspaper.
- Leaflet drop to local houses.
- Leaflets in neighbourhood offices.
- Websites and social media campaigning tools such as http://www.facebook.com/, http://twitter.com/, http://www.ning.com/ and http://www.youtube.com/.
- Newsletter, (email or paper).
- Exhibition / poster / leaflets in the local library.
- Survey of members.
- Notice board outside the site with regular updates.
- Posters in local shop windows and other venues.
- Publicised drop-in times to look around the library.
Whatever engagement methods are used, it is important that they are inclusive, clear and productive, encourage collaboration, are well recorded and followed up.
Have different groups of people with a role to play in supporting the transfer been identified and are there plans in place to engage with them?
Has there been adequate consultation between the local authority and communities regarding the possible transfer of the library?