Where’s your home? Finding a venue for your group

When you’re considering putting together a new group, one of the first things to consider is venue. Writers groups can meet anywhere but there are negatives and positives for any option. Here, we will discuss the options available and any issues to consider around each one.

Firstly, what are you looking for?

An ideal venue will be accessible. People may be coming by car or public transport and will need a venue that can provide public transport options and parking facilities close by.

A room with coffee and tea making facilities is ideal. A meeting will require breaks and having cold and hot water, tea and coffee, even a microwave or access to food is important. It’s important to consider what time you’ll be meeting – if you’re meeting early in the day, people only require something to drink but if people are coming straight from work, they’ll need to heat food or have access to buy something.

To get comfortable, a room will need table and chairs. Depending on what you do together, you may also require a whiteboard and some markers.

The Local Writers’ Centre

If you belong to your local writers’ centre, they will most likely already have resources for writers groups. These resources may include rooms, a kitchen and parking. Many are also located close to public transport and there are many reasons why utilising these resources are beneficial.

Firstly, supporting your local writers’ centre is always a good thing. They are looking for ways to engage with writers and your involvement with the centre will expose you to a range of activities, events and resources to help you as a writer. They work to support writers and, as such, you can’t go wrong by checking with them first and asking about starting a new group.

Secondly, a writers’ centre may have resources on hand for your writers. Books, webinars, writing courses and even a person at the front desk, a writers’ centre can be helpful. They will also be set up for meetings. Their rooms will have the necessary equipment and will make it easier for you to turn up and begin.

If there are any disadvantages to using your local centre, it’s that you will not be the only group meeting there and, as such, you may need to be flexible with the meeting day and time but once you’ve locked in a regular day and time to meet, you can organise to have that booked in as your regular meeting.

Libraries & Schools

Libraries and schools are a solid option for holding your meetings. A library will often permit bookings of their meeting rooms, just check that the space is large enough to hold your group. Libraries and schools are usually situated close to cafes and public transport links. Libraries do get booked up, it pays to find out if you can make a regular booking, otherwise it can be frustrating trying to secure a new booking every meeting. It also pays to check their closing times.

One disadvantage with a public library can be distractions and noise. Some libraries hold events and, depending on how small the library is, it may impact on your meeting. Libraries are also popular for schoolchildren to hang out after school and noise can become an issue.

Public schools will often have space but they may have a curfew and may not have kitchen facilities nearby your room.

Cafes & Bookstores

The advantage of holding meetings at a café or bookstore can also act as a disadvantage. They can be welcoming venues. Huddled around a table with good coffee and food close at hand can be attractive but, depending on the time of day, cafés and bookstores can also be noisy, loud and full of distractions. It can also be uncomfortable if you’re sharing your thoughts with people from nearby tables listening in. The last time I held a meeting at a local café, a gentleman couldn’t help himself and leaned over to contribute to the discussion! Having serious, thoughtful discussions at a café can work but I recommend securing a quiet corner for your group or picking a time when the place is quiet.

Home or Office

Out of all the options, I would not recommend this one unless absolutely necessary and unless it was for a special occasion. As a regular venue, using someone’s home or place of work can be useful but there are some considerations. Firstly, a person’s home is their private place and can offer distractions as well. Children, television and other members of the family may impact on the focus of the group. Even if there is a dedicated room, the host can often feel obligated to provide refreshments. What if they become unwell and are unable to attend? Or what happens if they leave the group?

Using someone’s home can also affect the atmosphere of the group. It always serves the group if everyone is on an equal footing. My advice is to keep the ground neutral and professional, as much as possible. Avoid using someone’s home, even yours if you are leading the group and only do this as a way to mark a special occasion. Group members will unconsciously unwind and relax in a home.

An office can be a viable option, but the same concerns apply. A professional place of business will provide the necessities for having a meeting but there needs to be clear boundaries around what is expected from the host and a plan in place if the host is unwell or the space becomes unavailable at short notice.

These are a few of the options for choosing the right venue for your group. If the group is new, it pays to open it up and get recommendations from members and work out a site that supports everyone. Part of the discussion may also be the ideal time and day for meeting and I’ve often opened up the first meeting to brainstorm our options and agree on the specifics together.

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