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Join or start a neighbourhood association

A neighbourhood association is a group of residents who live in a certain area and who work together to take on neighbourhood projects or to speak up about issues that concern residents. An association needs to set goals and objectives and to make them realistic and achievable. You can always start with a small project first and then build on your successes.

What can it do?

The association can discuss and act on issues such as:

  • crime prevention and community safety ideas
  • neighbourhood clean-ups or other improvement projects
  • parks and playgrounds    
  • social and recreational activities and special events
  • traffic
  • volunteer activities
  • zoning and development issues
     

How can you get involved?

The first step is to find out if your community has a neighbourhood association. Check the City of Ottawa website for a full listing.

If one exists in your neighbourhood, join it! If not, talk to your neighbours and organize an information meeting. From the start, your group should define the geographical boundaries of your association. Invite everyone in your neighbourhood so you can benefit from different perspectives and skills. It’s also a good way to ensure that no one feels left out. If there’s already an association in your neighbourhood, attend a meeting to find out how you can help build on what’s already being done.

How to structure and run it

A neighbourhood association may be big or small, formal or informal. It depends on what works for your neighbourhood and for the people who want to get involved.

It is important, however, to have some structure to your meetings in order to make sure things get done. If you want to follow a more formal structure, consider the following approach:

  • A Board of Directors, with members who are elected at an annual general meeting. Positions can include:
    • Chair – conducts the meetings and sees that tasks are being completed
    • Vice Chair – fills in for the Chair when he/she is not available and assists Chair with tasks
    • Treasurer – responsible for the association’s finances
    • Secretary – keeps people informed through taking and distributing meeting minutes and informing residents of upcoming meetings
  • Board meetings occur regularly, such as monthly
  • The Board follows written rules (by-laws and a constitution) to guide its operations
  • Special sub-committees are created to address specific issues like:
    • Communications – writing a newsletter or creating a website to keep other neighbours informed of the association’s activities
    • Fundraising – for special events or causes
    • Community and social events
    • Seniors’ and/or youth events

Here are some tips to follow to ensure you build an effective neighbourhood association:

  • Make sure that everyone feels involved and that the whole community is represented, not just the opinions of those who sit on the board.
  • Include people from all age groups. For example, seniors have plenty of experiences to share and often have more time to get involved than working parents. Young people bring another perspective to the table and can be helpful getting other young people involved and interested.
  • Establish clear and simple communication channels, invite feedback and encourage attendance and participation at meetings.
  • Remember that not everyone is comfortable speaking out or talking in public. Offer other feedback tools such as suggestion boxes, confidential voicemail line, email address or one-on-one conversations.
  • Schedule annual or bi-annual elections for the Board. This will help ensure that everyone has a chance to participate, and that you have fresh people and ideas around the table. It also means that the work and decisions can be shared, and everyone has a chance to contribute to your neighbourhood’s success.

If your neighbourhood association is being formed to address a specific problem, consider inviting your local Community Police Officer to your first meeting. He/she can help moderate or talk you through some of the issues. Remember that there are many problems you can take on as a neighbourhood association, but it is always good to have people with problem-solving experience at the table with you. Find your local Community Police Officer on the OPS website.

The Western Organisaiton of Research Council also offers some valuable tips and advice about holding community meetings. For an excellent guide on how to run a meeting, visit the Certified General Accountants of Ontario’s website to read, How to Conduct a Meeting.

Insurance

Contact your Insurance Broker to discuss your insurance options. If you plan to hold your neighbourhood association meetings in a City of Ottawa facility, you can book liability insurance at the same time as you sign your contract for the space. The City administers a User Group Liability insurance program with a $1,000,000 limit that can be purchased directly from the City at an affordable premium charge.

Because individuals can be held liable for decisions or actions they take as part of a Board of Directors, insurance for board members is a good idea. Volunteer Canada offers an insurance program for volunteers. Call 1-855-318-6558 or email underourwing@bmsgroup.com

You can also check with your own insurance provider or a company like PAL Insurance at 1-800-265-8098 to see what rates they might offer you.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada offers information on how to manage risk. For more information call 1-902-429-2730 or visit their website.