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Master Class

Organising a Community/Voluntary Event - Part 1

This guide runs through the basics of running an event and gives guidance on event planning, licensing laws, food and drink sales, road closures, insurance and more. It provides a great starting point for anyone tasked with putting on an entertainment event which can be anything from a street party or village hall event to a festival or road race.

There are quite a few things to think about but this article should help to demystify the process for you. It will also point you in the direction of other resources that can elaborate on the information shown here and offer further help when it is required.

One of the major things that seems to scare organisers is health and safety but it really shouldn't be a problem. It’s just a common sense approach to identifying risks and eliminating or minimising them. Health and safety gets a really bad press and is used as the scapegoat over and over again when someone is looking for a reason not to do something or not to allow something to happen. The phrase, “can’t do it, health and safety” is trotted out way too often. The Health & Safety Executive website goes about busting some of the myths that have grown up and there are some amusing cases listed on their website http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/

We are going to be looking at:

  • Planning an event
  • Licenses & Permissions
  • Safety
  • Food & Drink
  • Road Closures
  • Insurance

What do I need to think about when planning an event?

Good planning is vital to a successful event. Whatever sort of event you want to hold, the planning will often follow the same general pattern. You need to:

  1. Be clear about what you want the event to be, what you want it to achieve, and its size and scale.
  2. Plan and share out the work.
  3. Find out what bookings, permissions, licences you may need.
  4. Think about common sense safety and access issues and whether you will need insurance.
  5. Decide on a realistic budget.
  6. Identify how best to publicise the event.
  7. Plan the days (or days) in detail.
  8. “Mop up” after the event.

Be clear about what you want the event to be, what you want it to achieve, and its size and scale

Discuss with your fellow organisers what you want the event to achieve - will it:

  • raise money for a good cause
  • bring the community together
  • encourage a particular activity, such as a sport

You will also need to decide:

  • who do you want to come to the event
  • will there be activities for a range of different people
  • how many people are you catering for (think of both a minimum and maximum) and do you have the right facilities
  • will admission be free or will there be a charge; if the latter, will tickets need to be bought in advance or at the door - advance tickets (even if admission is free) can help you assess the level of interest and the numbers to plan for

The bigger the event, the more people you will need to plan and organise on the day itself, and the more time you will need give yourself to plan and prepare.

Plan and share out the work

If you are having a larger event you may want to form a small working group, to plan all the main dates and deadlines and help clarify how much work there is to do, and when.

For larger events consider having small groups to look at each area, such as marketing, safety and logistics (these will obviously vary depending on your event). It may also be a good idea to have one member of each group as your core organising team.

If it is a larger event, it is sensible for 1 or 2 members of the organising team to keep an overview of the entire event to:

  • ensure that the different teams’ plans are joining up
  • keep records of the planning arrangements
  • When planning the date of the event, try to avoid clashes with similar events that may be taking place nearby.

You can encourage more people to get involved by:

  • advertising planning meetings widely and encouraging participation at the meetings
  • thinking about the timing and location of your planning meetings, and asking potential volunteers what suits them best
  • publicising the event early and combine this with an appeal for people to help
  • putting together a list of jobs that can easily be handed over to new volunteers, even if they don’t want to come to meetings
  • pinning a list or rota up on a notice board and asking people to pledge a small amount of time on the day or contributions of food, raffle prizes, etc

Think about asking other local organisations, including event organisations, to get involved. They may have the expertise to take a major part of organising the event off your hands.

Keep people involved in organising the event, and anyone else who should know, regularly updated about what is going on; if it is a larger event, this may include the local council, police and/or emergency services. This can stop an individual or an organising group from making mistakes that may be expensive.

Also, if it is a larger event, consider the impact of the event on the neighbourhood in which it takes place. Make sure that residents and businesses are aware of what is going on and have the opportunity to let you know of any concerns they may have.

Find out what bookings, permissions and licences you need

Many activities that take place during voluntary and community events don’t need any licence. There is more information about this in Part 2.

You do need to:

  • make sure the venue you will be using is booked and confirmed (or if it is free of charge, you have the necessary permission from the owner) allowing enough time to provide access for set up and clearing away, as well as the event itself
  • think about any equipment you will need to hire and make sure you know how to use it, for example, microphones. PA systems etc
  • check with entertainers what they expect you to provide and exactly what they will provide eg
    • how long does their ‘show’ last
    • will they perform more than once
    • what is the maximum number of people they can reach in a performance

If you are raising money for charity, you can find the good practice standards you should aim to meet in the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice.

Think about common sense safety, access issues and insurance

You will be responsible for the safety of volunteers and visitors at your event. Looking after people’s safety at events is largely a matter of taking simple, sensible precautions that are outlined in Part 3.

You will need to consider the following:

  • how will people get to the event, make sure your publicity gives details of public transport and parking
  • do you need to put up signs on the surrounding roads to make the event easier to find
  • is the venue accessible for wheelchair users and people with other disabilities, make sure your publicity is clear about the level of access visitors can expect

If you are holding an open air event, the weather can be fickle. So ask yourself:

  • what impact heavy rain, strong winds or very hot weather could have
  • is there shelter for visitors from both heavy rain and/or strong sunlight
  • are there steps you can take to stop cars getting stuck – particularly as they enter or leave the car park
  • is there a risk of flooding

You should also consider whether you need to get public liability insurance.

Decide on a realistic budget

All the following may involve costs you will have to meet:

  • venue hire
  • publicity
  • equipment hire
  • decorations
  • entertainers
  • prizes
  • buying refreshments
  • transport
  • phone bills, postage and other administrative costs
  • insurance
  • volunteers’ expenses
  • first aid equipment and provision
  • fees for licences and permissions

So you need to plan how you are going to cover them. This could be through;

  • entrance fees
  • grants or sponsorship
  • voluntary donations
  • raffles
  • selling refreshments
  • money-making sideshows and stalls
  • charging stallholders and/or catering suppliers

Be realistic. It’s better to underestimate income and slightly overestimate costs.

Even if you are aiming to break even, do allow some contingency to reduce the risk of making a loss. If you do then make some money use it to meet the cost of next time or decide beforehand a charity you can donate it to.

Talking to people who have organised similar events can provide a really helpful indication of likely costs and income.

Identify how best to publicise the event

You will need to decide:

  • who you want your publicity to reach - think about where those people are most likely to see a poster or flyer, and what will attract them to the event
  • how much money you have to spend on publicity
  • do you want to use local media, such as newspapers and radio
  • can you use digital media such as websites or social networks

Consider including some contact details with the publicity so people can contact you directly.

You should also make sure you get your publicity out early enough for it to be distributed and read - don’t wait until every last detail of the event is finalised.

Plan the day (or days) in detail

Shortly before the event, you need to run through the day (or days) in detail with the organising team. You can ask yourself questions like:

  • where will everybody be on the day - does everyone know their roles and responsibilities, including if something goes wrong
  • is the rota full, or do you need to do a last-minute ring round to fill some gaps
  • how will equipment and volunteers get to the venue - and away again
  • will you be able to take hired equipment directly to and from the event, or will it need to be stored
    • how close to the event site can organisers’ vehicles get, you may have to consider using a trolley or volunteers to help carry equipment closer to the site
  • who is responsible for money on the day (if you if you think you may raise a large amount, consider arranging for someone to collect the money throughout the day)
  • will you need a lot of change; if so, contact your bank (at least a week in advance) and ask them to put some aside for you
  • will you have enough activities - long queues will spoil people’s day
  • what will happen if the weather is bad
  • do you have enough time, materials and people for setting up and clearing away

“Mopping up” after the event

Check the terms of your hire agreement to see exactly what the owner of the venue expects you to clear up.

It’s a good idea to count takings from the different sources separately, so that you know which activities made money and which didn’t do so well. This will help you make a more accurate budget for your next event. It’s also best to have two people at the count.

Bank cash as soon as possible.

It’s always worth having a brief discussion with your organising team after the event, to talk through what went well and not so well on the day, learning lessons for the future.

If the event took place to raise money for a good cause, find a way of publicising how much money was raised and thank people for their contribution.

Go to part 2 of Organising a Community/Voluntary Event