The unspoken impact of community events

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In an ever disconnected world I find great comfort when I see a poster for a humble community event.  The kind of event that is probably arranged by an exhausted committee of people who are driven by their purpose.  The kind of event that could involve a performance from the back of a truck and perhaps a collection of other activities that sit on the borderline of compliance.

Where there are community events there are people who care about something.

If you’ve ever arranged an event you’ll smile (even if it’s forced) when I mention the words funding applications, risk management policy, ‘politics’, ‘white anting’, trying to please everybody and most likely hecklers.

But you’ll also know that exhilarating feeling as you shove the last chip packet into a plastic bag, sit down and realise that you pulled it off.

I love community events particularly for their ability to draw together people in a fun and celebratory atmosphere.  Events are most often happy and memorable times (let’s not dive into the stressed to the eyeballs committees that sit behind them today), times of turning the person you wave to on your way to work to a person with a name and even a shared cuppa.  They are shining opportunities for raising awareness about any kind of community issue and of course they are a very helpful tool for fundraising.

I believe that it’s too easy to underestimate the importance of events, certainly there are economic outcomes (sometimes more than we realise) but there are also incredibly important and often unspoken outcomes which include things like social inclusion, skill development, community connection, self-confidence development and more and more.

I have incredibly fond memories growing up attending all manner of events from school fetes to the annual ‘show’ (or agricultural show if you’re a bit more up town), even going to the movies was somewhat of an event.  Radio shows broadcasting from the beach, surf comps, battles of the bands, live concerts, parades and commemorative shows.

People would come out of their homes and get involved.  The community would look after the kids as we screamed wildly on a sugar induced high through the school yard, or town park – wherever the event was being held.  And people would get to know one another, connect and build community.

I have equally fond (though a little more stressed) memories of arranging all manner of events from dance parties to conferences, community markets, jam nights, street parades and outdoor festivals.

Now as a parent I just don’t seem to find quite as many things to take my kids to.  And it’s not because I’m too busy either, it just seems that either there is less on, or my ears and eyes aren’t seeking out that information.

I’ve wondered for some time about why this is the case – Sorry, I don’t buy the ‘public liability’ thing.  Yes yes, I know it exists and it’s over the top but there are always more ways to get things done…

A few years ago Evolve Network conducted a research project about community events in the Mid North Coast of NSW.  The project captured the attention of over 65 event organisers and to save you reading the full doc (you can see it HERE if you like) it highlighted the key difficulties of event sustainability included  * ageing and tired volunteers who arrange the events, * increased necessity for ‘mutual obligation’ activities – i.e. the people who might have volunteered are forced into volunteering and probably in other important things like painting walls * exhausted community purse and * lack of skill development.

(I will write another post soon about sneaky ways around all of these things)

Yes, there’s certainly a lot against the humble community event organiser and I very humbly take my hat off to those who soldier on despite the obstacles.

Yesterday I took my kids to the mother of all school fetes in my local community.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

We walked into the school grounds and instantly spotted people we knew or at least recognised.  The kids very quickly ditched me for friends, activities (and sugar) and we all managed a good balance of friends, food and fun before seeking out the car a few hours later.

The most interesting point for me here – this is NOT the school that my kids go to, I didn’t go to that school and we have no affiliation with it other than the fact that we live in the same community.  And I’ve got to say it was impossible to ignore a pang in my consciousness that very clearly said “er hmm – THIS community is available to you too” (aka stellar marketing strategy).

I saw parents who had come together and baked, created, planned and organised AND STILL SMILED as they facilitated what was very clearly a mega-fundraising and community building activity for the school.

And what impressed me most was the committee had expertly (even if by accident) analysed the most financially successful event of the year in the community (aka ‘the show’) and emulated a mini-version which drip fed finances from the wallets of the parents to the fundraising account of the school.

From side-show alley games to carnival rides and fairy floss at the annual ‘show’ my purse vomited at least $60 into the school’s economy – times that by numerous families and the annual (or so I’m told this is now bi-annual) fundraising is done in one fell swoop- thank you very much. No door knocking, begging, pleading or bi-monthly raffle tickets required.  I LOVE THAT TOO.

Thanks for an entertaining event school committee. AND I encourage you to reconsider the importance of the events in your community. Chances are they are contributing more than you currently imagine.

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