Community Centre Handbook

Introduction

There is a long history of community centres being managed by voluntary organisations in Aberdeen.  These voluntary organisations are usually made up of local residents and other local community representatives, elected by the local communities.

This section will provide information in relation to:

  • the different legal structures available to the voluntary organisations;
  • the role of the Management Committee;
  • the role of Office Bearer with the Management Committee;
  • the importance of good governance and effective meetings;
  • what members are within a community centre setting;
  • the importance of member administration;
  • the importance of management committee administration;
  • a code of conduct
  • business planning and marketing
  • the Information Commissioner’s Office and “Not for profit” organisations.

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Legal Structures for Groups Leasing a Community Centre

To Lease a Community Centre from the Council the group must have a fit for purpose constitution, or similar founding document. An effective constitution will clearly set down on paper what the group has been established to do, how it will operate and the legal structure of the group.

There are two main types of legal structures, those that are incorporated and those that are unincorporated.

An incorporated organisation establishes a separate legal entity that is different from the members of the organisation. This separates the organisation from its members and enables the organisation to enter into contracts in its own name.

An unincorporated organisation does not establish a separate legal entity. An unincorporated organisation is not able to enter into in its own name and members of the organisation need to do this on the organisations behalf.

Constitutions can be amended to suit the Organisation’s particular needs.  Aberdeen Council for Voluntary Organisations (ACVO) can also provide advice and guidance (01224 686075) or email development@acvo.org.uk

Legal Structures for Community Centres Tenants at a Glance

A basic guide to the legal structures that may be suitable for a voluntary organisation leasing a community centre.  There are a variety of legal requirements associated with setting up the structures described below and you should consider seeking professional advice to inform your choice.

Legal structure Summary: most typical features Ownership, governance and constitution Is it a legal person distinct from those who own and/or run it? Can it be a charity and get charitable status tax benefits?
Unincorporated association Informal; no general regulation of this structure; need to make own rules. Nobody owns – governed according to own rules. No, which can create problems for contracts, holding property and liability of members. Yes, if it meets the criteria for being a charity.
Trust A way of holding assets so as to separate legal ownership from economic interest. Assets owned by trustees and managed in interests of beneficiaries on the terms of the trust. No, which means the trustees are personally liable. Yes, if it meets the criteria for being a charity.
Limited company, limited by guarantee A frequently adopted corporate legal structure; can be adapted to suit most purposes. Directors manage business on behalf of members. Considerable flexibility over internal rules. Yes, members’ liability limited to amount by guarantee Yes, if it meets the criteria for being a charity.
Community interest company (CIC) An effective limited company structure for social enterprise with secure ‘asset lock’ and focus on community benefit. As for other limited companies, but subject to additional regulation to ensure community benefits. Yes, members’ liability limited to amount unpaid on shares or by guarantee. No, but can become a charity if it ceases to be a CIC.
Industrial & Provident Society (IPS)
(Community Benefit Society (BenComm))
Benefit community other than just own members and have special reason not to be companies. Committee / officers manage on behalf of members and new legislation provides option of more secure form of ‘asset lock’. Yes, members liability limited to amount unpaid on shares. Yes, if it meets the criteria for being a charity.
Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation First ready-made corporate structure specifically designed for charities. Similar to company but with different terminology, eg ‘charity trustee’ instead of ‘director’. Yes, members either have no liability or limited liability. Cannot be anything but a charity, and must meet the criteria for being a charity.

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The Role of the Management Committee and Those Involved Within It.

Most voluntary organisation, including those that lease the community centres, consists of Members and a Management Committee.  Sometimes the Management Committee will have a different name such as a Board of Charity Trustee or Board of Directors.

The Members have the right to attend the Annual General Meeting (and any other general meetings) and have important powers under the organisation’s constitution.  In particular, the Members elect people to serve on the Management Committee (or Board etc.) and take decisions in relation to changes to the constitution itself.

The Management Committee are elected by the Members and hold regular committee meetings during the period between Annual General Meetings. The Management Committee generally control and supervise the activities of the organisation.  In particular, the Management Committee is responsible for monitoring the financial position of the organisation and taking the decisions that affect the day to day operation of the organisation’s activities.

In order to help the Management Committee run efficiently some of the Management Committee will hold an Office Bearer position.  While these Office Bearers are very important they do not have any more authority or power than any other individual on the Management Committee.  It is the Management Committee, as a collective, that make decisions and not individuals.  It is however acceptable to delegate decision making authority to individuals, whether or not they are part of the Management Committee, providing this is agreed by the Management Committee and recorded in the Management Committee’s minutes.

The most common Office Bearer roles are those of Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer.

Chairperson

The primary role of the Chairperson is to guide the Community Centre Management Committee towards achieving their aims as set down in the constitution and other relevant documents.

Typical duties for a Chairperson include:

  • facilitates committee meetings and ensures the agenda is followed;
  • makes sure that all the facts are presented at meetings;
  • makes people aware of the rules, where necessary;
  • makes sure everybody gets a chance to express their views – only one person speaking at a time;
  • encourages people to join in discussions;
  • acts fairly and ensures order is maintained;
  • Keeps overall control of the meetings;
  • ensures that when decisions are made that everyone understands;
  • assists in preparing the agenda;
  • checks minutes for accuracy before distribution.

Secretary

The primary role of the Secretary is to ensure there is good flow of information within the organisation and between the organisation and others.  This includes ensuring that decisions taken by the organisation are properly recorded.

Typical duties for a Secretary include:

  • to keep safe all the information relevant to the group;
  • to meet with the other Office Bearers to prepare the agenda for Committee meetings and send it out with any additional information if required;
  • to deal with correspondence to the group;
  • to write and send letters on behalf of the group while retaining a file copy for the group to refer to;
  • to file and keep safe correspondence received once the Information has been passed on at the meetings;
  • to take minutes at the meeting, noting who attends, what decisions are taken and who agreed to progress any tasks;
  • to check minutes, with the chair, for accuracy prior to distribution;
  • to copy and circulate minutes of meetings to all Committee members and other interested organisations.

Treasurer

The primary role of the Treasurer is to ensure the Management Committee is provided with accurate financial information

Typical duties for a Treasurer include:

  • ensure accurate records of all financial transactions are kept (for example receipts, cheques made out, invoices paid, cheques/cash received);
  • ensure regular reports are provided at management committess detailing the financial position of the organisation (balance of funds, details of income and expenditure, details of assets and liabilities);
  • ensure all expenditure is approved by the Management Committee before cheques are written or money is spent;
  • allowing any member of the group to inspect the account books;
  • Prepare the accounts for the annual audit/examination.

While most organisations will have a Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer an organisation may also have other Office Bearers, and positions of responsibility, such as:

  • Vice Chairperson;
  • Publicity Officer;
  • Child Protection Officer;
  • Human Resource Officer;
  • Any other others position deemed appropriate by the Management Committee.

While these are the typical duties of Office Bearers it is important to remember that Office Bearers do not have any more authority or power than any other member of the Management Committee and that it is the is the Management Committee to decide what Office Bearers are required and what their respective roles should be.

If Management Committees wish to delegate more authority to Individuals they can however this requires to be agreed at a management committee meeting and recorded in the minutes.  While this may give individuals more authority and allow decisions to be taken quicker it is still the whole management committee who will be responsible for the actions of the individual.

It is important to realise that a General Meeting is not a meeting of the Management Committee, or a public meeting, but is a meeting of the membership of the Association.

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Good Governance and Effective Meetings

The Management Committee holds regular meetings, usually monthly, to decide on how the organisation should operate the community centre on a day to day basis.

It is important to prepare an agenda for these meetings and this is usually set by the Chairperson and Secretary.  When preparing the agenda the following should be considered:

  • Priorities – what has to be covered at this meeting;
  • Results – what must you have decisions on at this meeting;
  • Sequence – in what order will you cover each topic;
  • Timing – how much time will you spend on each topic;
  • Date , time and place of next meeting

Once an agenda is prepared it will help identify what information needs to be available to the Management Committee to allow them to make an informed decision. The agenda and appropriate information should be circulated to Management Committee member in advance of the meeting so that they are prepared for the meeting and make best used of the time together as a committee.

The decisions of the management committee require to be recorded in the organisation’s minutes.

An effective meeting is one that achieves what is was intended to, within the time allocated and leaves committee members feeling they have achieved something.

  • If certain people are dominating the conversation, make a point of asking others for their ideas
  • At the end of each agenda item quickly summarise what was said and ask people to confirm that that’s a fair summary
  • Note items that require future discussion
  • Watch body language and make adjustments as necessary. Maybe people need a break or they feel the discussion has gone on too long.
  • Ensure the meeting stays on topic
  • Make sure all the tasks that are generated at the meeting are listed and a note is taken who has to do what and by when

Some Management Committees have infrequent Management Committee meetings as the Committee members see one another on a regular basis and make joint decisions in this way between meetings.  While this may appear acceptable it can create extremely difficult problems for the organisation.

As these are not formal decisions of the management committee they are actually the decisions of the individuals.  It is the organisation that has insurance cover, not the individuals, and therefore this may invalidate insurance cover in the event of a claim.

If management committees wish to operate in this way they need to ensure that they formally delegate authority to allow this to happen and that the individuals ensure they report back to the full committee to record any decisions they have made.

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Members In A Community Centre Setting

The term member (and membership) can be confusing in a community centre setting as a member can refer to both a customer of the community centre and a subscriber to the community centre association.  The term membership has two different meanings in this setting.

A member can refer to a customer of an organisation.  For instance many people will become members of a fitness gym. They will pay a membership fee and receive a membership card and will be referred to as members.  This membership will usually grant them free access to the gym or reduced access to the gym.  The membership however does not usually allows the person to decide on how the organisation is run, or to attend any meetings of the Gym’s owners.

A member can also refer to an individual who subscribes, and ultimately controls, an organisation.  For instance many people will become members of a trade union.  They will pay a fee and membership card and will be referred to as members. Unlike the customers, above, these members do have a say in how the organisation is controlled and managed.  These members are invited to attend the Annual General Meeting and have a vote at these meetings.  They can also stand for election to the decision making body of the union.  Effectively these members are the owners of the Union.

Therefore the word members can refer to both customers and owners of an organisation or even both.

The important thing for organisations is to make a conscious decision if their membership they are offering individuals is simply to be a customer of the community centre, or to be actively involved in the decision making of the association, or for both.  It is possible that some individuals are only interested in being a customer and do not wish to be involved in the operation of the association.

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Keeping Track Of Association Members

It is important to keep a record of all members of the Association and of the management committee of the Association.  The model constitutions available from ACVO actually make it a requirement for the management committee to keep these records.

Keeping these records will make it easier to management the AGM, other general meetings and any management committee meetings.

A word document that can be used as the basis for a membership application form is available here.

A word document that can printed off to record members details is available here.

A word document that can printed off to record management committee members details is available here.

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Keeping Personal Data

As you need to keep track of your members and management committee members you will be keeping and processing their personal data.  Therefore you require to adhere to the applicable laws which is primarily the Data Protection Act.

Most organisation require to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) if they process personal data however there is an exemption for not-for profit organisations who only process information for the purpose of:

  • establishing or maintaining membership;
  • supporting a not-for-profit body or association; or
  • providing or administering activities for either the members or those who have regular contact with it.

While ever centre will have to adhere to Data Protection law depending on how you operate your centres activities you may be except from registration with ICO.  It should be noted however that certain activities, such as the installation of recorded CCTV will require registration.

More information is available from here.

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Code of Conduct

Management Committees may find developing a code of conduct is helpful in guiding management committees, staff and volunteers on the appropriate standards of conduct.  The code of conduct should detail the high standards expected of those involved in the community centre.  It will likely cover aspects of customer care, equal opportunities, acceptable conduct and conflicts of interest.

A model code of conduct that can be adapted for your individual requirements is available here.

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Business Planning and Marketing

Running a community centre is effectively the same as running a small business.  The management committee will need to be aware of the income and expenditure being generated by the community centre’s activities as well as the actual activities themselves.  As the ultimate goal of the management committee is to provide a local service, rather than make a profit, it will often be referred to as a community enterprise or social enterprise.

Just because the community centre is not a conventional business does not mean it cannot use some of the tools business do.  Management Committees should consider the benefits of developing a business plan and in marketing they centre.

A business plan can be extremely useful if the management committee is trying to obtain additional funding or if it is considering starting a new project.  It can also help a management committee achieve and goals they wish to set for their Centre.

A business plan is a practical tool and not a complicated document.  It allows Management Committees:

  • to agree a common vision for the Centre;
  • to have a common understanding of what services and activities they already provide and what priority they give them in terms of the common vision;
  • to agree what actions they need to take over a period of time (e.g. 5years) to develop their common vision;
  • to agree what steps need to be taken and within what timescales they need to be done to achieve these actions;
  • to agree what resources need to be in place to fund the actions and where these resources can be sourced.

A model business plan, and associated guidance, that can be adapted for your individual requirements is available here.

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Marketing Your Community Centre

Marketing can be very important to Community Centres.  It helps you to deliver your message about what the Centre’s services and activities are and how people can access them.  As well as marketing the Centre’s service and activities you can often employ marketing to communicate messages with a social purpose, such as recruiting volunteers, or even improve your changes of funding.

Many forms of marketing can be very inexpensive or free.  These could include distributing flyers, issuing press releases, establishing a Facebook page using other social media such as twitter, or even establishing your own web page.

Marketing lets you get your messages out to your people!

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