Annette Green, Modi’in, Israel
If a local real estate agent is to be believed, then location is the most important element in your property’s value. Don’t worry, I am not going to give you a property appraisal. Instead, I would like to explore how a Group’s location can affect its success.
Whether you’re a Leader setting up a new Group or leading an established Group that has been meeting in the same location for a long time, location matters. Is your Group’s location working for you or is it time to contemplate a move?
In Hebrew there is a popular saying, “Meshana makom, meshana mazal.” It roughly translates to “Change your place, change your luck.”
Firstly, let’s look at location basics:
Is your meeting located in an area with young families and small children? We have seen huge increases in attendance by moving the meeting location from a more mature population on one side of the city to a younger population on the other side of the city. Traveling even short distances with a young baby can be challenging so the closer you are to potential mothers, the better.
If you are expecting mothers and babies at your meetings, then ideally you want them to be able to enter and exit the meeting location easily. Parents will often be pushing a pram or stroller (pushchair) or carrying a car seat. If your meeting room is not on the ground level and the only way up is the stairs, you can encourage mothers to carry their babies in a sling, baby carrier or in their arms; however this may discourage some mothers from attending.
If your meeting location is on the ground floor or there is an elevator (lift), is there room for lots of strollers or car seats inside the meeting room? If not, could mothers leave these items outside the room and carry their babies inside? Sometimes mothers arrive and their babies are asleep in the stroller or car seat and they will want their baby in the meeting room with them. A meeting with even a modest number of attendees, let’s say five or six mothers, can get very crowded if they each have a pram or stroller. Always ensure your meeting room can accommodate any extra baby vehicles without blocking access to surrounding rooms and fire exits.
Ideally meetings will be accessible to mothers arriving by public transport. Is there a local train station or bus stop? Sharing the closest train station and bus line information when you share your meeting location information can help mothers without private cars feel like their needs are being addressed. If there aren’t any public transport options, consider offering to help make carpool (car sharing) arrangements between mothers. This might be a good job to delegate to a nominated mother.
For those with private cars, is there parking nearby? Nearby parking will be useful for you as a Leader, too. There is nothing more frustrating than frantically searching for a parking space when you are running late for a meeting you’re about to lead. A lack of parking can be a real obstacle to mothers, too.
Is your location neutral and inclusive? Is there anything about the meeting location that may make some people uncomfortable? During a recent visit to my home country, Australia, I decided to check out a local Australian Breastfeeding Association meeting and attend with my nursing three year old. The meeting was in a church hall and as an Orthodox Jew I was comfortable with that. However when we entered the hall there was a huge cross on one of the walls that made me feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes a church may be the best public option (free, good location and access). If so, in addition to using a room with a minimum of religious symbols, a Leader might wish to include a disclaimer in the announcements such as “We thank ____ church for allowing us to use their meeting room. LLL is an international, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization and is not affiliated with any religion.”
I have led meetings in bare rooms with stacking chairs for mothers to sit on and also rooms with soft mattresses, beanbags and cushions on the floor. No prizes for guessing which was more popular. And not just with the mothers and babies! Finding a room that will make mothers feel comfortable for the duration of the meeting is critical, especially if you are encouraging mothers to come back frequently to attend meetings. Soft furnishings also help soften the acoustics in a room and make it easier to hear each other.
Are there any other issues that could be a barrier for a mother attending a meeting in your location? Is it safe for mothers to get to the meeting location? If meeting face-to-face is a safety challenge, can online meetings be scheduled instead?
8. Meeting in a private home
The very first LLL meeting was hosted in a private home and 60 years later this is still a popular choice around the world. Access to a kitchen for preparing snacks, sofas, chairs and toys, a welcoming, cozy atmosphere and the option of a quiet bedroom to calm a fractious baby can make this a good option.
Some things to consider:
- Can you find hosts who are willing to open their homes to strangers? Are they willing to have their home address publicized? If your host is not willing to have her address publicized on your website/Facebook page or flyer, it can make more work for Leaders to answer questions about the exact meeting location.
- Stepping into a private home can feel territorial and daunting for some mothers attending for the first time, especially if there is a clique of established mothers to greet her. Ensure there is an official greeter to make her feel welcome as soon as she steps inside.
- Is it culturally appropriate to invite strangers into your home? Or as a mother, is it culturally appropriate to attend a meeting in a stranger’s home in your area?
- Some homes may not be big enough to host a large meeting. Will you require an advance reply (email, phone, text) so you don’t have too many mothers attending? Who will be responsible to contact for registration—a Leader or the host?
- Will the meeting end in a timely manner? Sometimes a meeting in a home can seem to have “no end” leaving the host desperate to reclaim her personal space, put her toddler down for a nap, or get ready to fetch her older children from school.
- Will help be offered to the host to help clear away all the toys, cups and crumbs after the meeting? Leaving her home like a building site after every meeting can soon wear thin and she may not be prepared to host again.
- A new Leader starting a new Group may find it helpful to hold initial meetings in her home. It can take a while for a new Group to build regular attendees and having the meeting in the Leader’s home is easiest for her in case nobody arrives.
9. Rotating locations
If you are using private homes, you may not find one host who is willing to host every meeting. An alternative is to rotate between homes each meeting or each Series. Bear in mind, it can be confusing for mothers to have to find a new location every meeting. There is something reassuring about returning to the same location meeting after meeting.
10. Public locations
Finding a public room in a commercial or noncommercial location may be a great solution for the Group. Libraries, community centers, well baby clinics, doctor offices, exercise studios, or private studios aimed at mother and baby activities all might be suitable locations. A public building can be more attractive to new mothers attending for the first time because it is neutral.
Some things to keep in mind:
- What are the venue owners’ expectations? In Israel private studios hosting meetings have been disappointed with the attendance levels. Leaders were left feeling pressured to secure high attendance.
- Does the venue have an ulterior motive to collect mothers’ contact information for commercial purposes? Mothers’ information is private and confidential and we do not share it outside LLL. Or do they want to give an introduction to their services at the beginning or end of the meeting? While you may choose to graciously thank your hosts, you don’t want to be in a situation of mixing causes. If you are in doubt, please discuss with your Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL).
- Can you hire/rent the venue free of charge or will there be a substantial monthly cost to your Group?
- Are refreshments available, and will there be a cost to mothers? Alternatively can mothers bring their own refreshments?
- Is the meeting location available all year round? Several of our local meeting locations are unavailable during the summer months due to summer camps, vacation schedules, or owners travelling abroad. You may be planning a short break for meetings but anything longer than one month can be problematic and leave you looking for temporary venues. One solution is to move outdoors during the summer in sunny climates. My Group had this issue a few years ago. We had bi-monthly meetings in a local park that provided shade and good play equipment for the toddlers, and Group attendance over the summer was great. Even when the weather was hot, we somehow managed.
- You may find moving to private homes just during the summer months is workable if the public venue is temporarily unavailable.
- A lone Leader may find setting up at a public venue to be quite a challenge. Can you park close by to offload the library, refreshments, Group toys? Could the venue store any items between meetings? Do you have plenty of help to set up and put away materials, leaving the venue clean and tidy?
- A big advantage for using a public venue is that the owner might be able to help you with publicity. Ask if they will add your details to their noticeboard, website, email newsletter or social media presence. If the venue is associated with an organization which advertises locally, they may agree to add the meeting notices to their printed advertisements. Since publicity of meetings is often the most challenging part of leading meetings, this can be a significant help to attract mothers. If the owners also work with mothers and babies, they may be able to refer mothers directly to your meetings.
- Is the venue or business compatible with LLL and WHO Code compliant (or at least not a violator).
Different meeting locations have advantages and disadvantages. You (and your co-Leaders) will want to evaluate all the criteria and available options before choosing a location.