Make the most of your first event

post author

Post author

Simon Kenton

When thinking about your first activities, it’s important to look back at the original reasons for setting up your low carbon group. Do you have a particular green “agenda”, such as creating a community wind farm, or was the group set up to explore solutions to living more sustainably? The reason I bring this up is that your remit as a group will colour your vision for a first event. Don’t get me wrong, agendas can, and do, act as great catalysts, but they can also polarise the community just at a time when you are trying to pull everything together. So, for the purpose of this blog, I am going assume that your group is interested in helping as many people as possible in your community to become more aware of the issues and practical actions that they can take to live more sustainably.

the WHO, WHAT and HOW of planning events

No matter what the subject matter, when deciding on what type of event to run, you first need to think:

  • Who is your audience? Are you aiming the event at the whole community? A certain age group? Or a particular type of householder?
  • What are you hoping to achieve by running a community event? Is it to raise the profile of your group? Or is it to get more people signing up to a particular programme, like a car club?
  • How will you know if it’s been a success? Is it the physical numbers you attract to the event? Or is it increased traffic on your website or awareness of a particular facility or programme?Be clear about these points from the outset and refer back to them as you plan the event to make sure you’re not going off track.

Next up is to look at whether you have the time resource needed to run the event you have in mind. It’s natural to want to make a big splash with your first endeavour but unless you have a large number of keen members or experience of running events, or preferably both, it’s wise to start small and build up over time. You don’t want to find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, end up in a fluster, and wonder whose idea it was to run the stupid thing in the first place (probably yours anyway!).

subject matter

Members of your group will have their own thoughts on suitable topics for a first event. If you held an initial public meeting, similar to the one described in my December blog, you will also have a clear idea of some of the key issues identified by your local community. You might also want to look at the crossover a particular event might have with other local groups, which would not only draw in more people but might help spread the organising load. Remember, not everyone is in the position to make huge changes, such as installing renewable energy on their home or getting rid of the car, so it might be worth starting with smaller incremental changes to get more people involved.

Although there is obviously some overlap, you can generally split sustainability issues into five main groups:

  • Waste – including the “3Rs” (reduce, reuse, recycling) and specific issues such as packaging and commercial waste.
  • Energy – including generation, supply, and efficiency in the home and at work.
  • Transport – including local transport, cycling, lift shares and car clubs.
  • Food – including buying, preparing, growing and reducing food waste.
  • Natural environment – including access to, conservation and biodiversity.

As mentioned above, when choosing the most appropriate subject for your first event, try to look at those that will draw together the community, while not diluting the core essence of what you are trying to achieve. For example, if you looking at energy issues, make sure you look at the reasons why we need to rethink our energy mix in the UK and try to cover all the different types of popular renewable technologies, rather than just focussing on one specific example that might be a local bone of contention.

ideas for events

Here are some overviews of popular events that you might want to consider running in your community:

Swap shops

Concept: Waste reduction event where people bring items they no longer need and take anything else that they fancy. These events promote reuse of items, divert waste from landfill, and discourage people from buying new. See How to Run a Swap Shop for more information.

Advantages: Easy to run and a “quick win”; draws in a wide variety of the community (everyone likes free stuff!); opportunity to have info stands, give out other information, and promote future events; tangible outputs – you can physically see how successful it has been.

Disadvantages: Might be seen by some as not making a big enough impact on CO2.

Things to remember: Make sure you make people aware of the reasons why you are running the event, rather than it just being seen as a free alternative to a car-boot sale.


Film shows

Concept: Awareness raising event where people are invited to see a thought-provoking film, sometimes introduced by a speaker, and usually followed by a discussion or debate.

Advantages: Films usually offer an entertaining and high-impact way of exploring an issue; you can use the event to promote other events and information.

Disadvantages: People often don’t want to stay for the discussion; sometimes these types of film can make people feel that the issues are too big for them to make any impact.

Things to remember: Pick your film wisely and end on a positive note – after the film, invite a speaker to explain that it’s not all “doom and gloom” and give people simple and practical actions that they can easily do.


“How to…” workshops

Concept: Regular series of workshops, normally run by an expert(s), giving people practical expertise on “how to…” do something. Examples might be home composting, growing food in small containers, 10 steps to saving money and lowering your carbon footprint, cooking with leftovers, cycle maintenance, repairing clothes, etc.

Advantages: Gives people new skills and empowers them to make changes; each topic will draw in different people.

Disadvantages: Can be costly to hire in the experts; limited as to how many people can attend each session.

Things to remember: If possible, try to use members of your group for the first few workshops and then to do an informal skills audit to see if your “experts” can come from within your community.


Community kitchen

Concept: A pop-up kitchen where people bring along their “waste” food then cook and share a meal together, sometimes followed by a film. More information, including a “how to” handbook and equipment to borrow, from Dinnertime!.

Advantages: Looks at reducing food waste and gaining cooking skills; food is a great leveller and an excellent way of getting a community together.

Disadvantages: Limit on the number of people you can involve.

Things to remember: Make sure people understand why the event is taking place, be particularly aware of food hygiene issues.


“Green drinks”

Concept: A regular opportunity for people to meet at the local pub to discuss local concerns and wider sustainability issues, generally used as an addition to other events.

Advantages: Allows people to make that first step to getting involved in a pressure-free environment; ideas generated can be used as the basis for other events.

Disadvantages: Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in a pub; can’t usually bring children, so can exclude families.

Things to remember: Make sure that you also use the opportunity to advertise other future events; don’t drink too much beer!


“off the peg” community engagement tools

There are a number of very good community engagement tools available that act as a more structured approach to working with local residents and helping them to reduce their carbon footprints. Whilst I won’t go into any details of these here, three of the most popular in Oxfordshire are below and more information can be found on their websites:

In next blogs we will be looking at the actual practicalities of running the events themselves. Next month we will focus on risk assessments and insurance for your event. As always, comments and questions welcome. Until next time…

Simon Kenton



  1. Megan said:
    13 February, 2012

    Is it ok to run a first event that has nothing to do with the environment?

    • Simon said:
      15 February, 2012

      Hi Megan

      Well that would depend on what it was! If your first event is aimed at drawing in new people to get the group up and running then obviously you want to have something that would attract people interested in low carbon and sustainability. However, this could be something with a more general feel, such as a neighbourhood planning meeting or something of local interest with a sustainability feel, such as setting up a community shop. What did you have in mind?


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