Connecting with members in Forest Gate North

We had some discussion back in the summer, in Forest Gate North, about what we might do to connect with our members. We are (obviously!) a lively and sociable branch, but in common with almost every other membership organisation, the numbers of members who come to our meetings, socials, and canvassing sessions is very small compared to our total number of members. Of course, not every member wants to attend meetings or to participate, and that is absolutely their right. But we wanted to make sure, for example, that we were communicating effectively, that we were offering what people wanted, and that we weren’t inadvertantly excluding people from our activities in the way that we organised them.

We wanted to get in touch with our members and see what they wanted from their membership, and whether there were people who wanted to be more involved, and whether there was anything we needed to change. We therefore decided to contact all our members individually, by means of doorknocking to deliver a mailing, and following up this contact where people weren’t in by phone or email.

Our mailing included a letter from the chair (that’s me – Rachel), a questionnaire asking members about their experience and their thoughts, and a hard copy of the West Ham Labour ‘welcome document’ which sets out how West Ham sits in the national Labour party, and how to get involved.

There was more preparation involved than I’d initially anticipated. As well as the easy work to anticipate (writing the documents, creating an online questionnaire, photocopying, mail-merging, envelope stuffing) I also created a spreadsheet of ward members that we would use to capture their responses. I then divided it up into groups which were roughly along geographical lines, and divided up the spreadsheet into the same groups. This means that each member who was delivering the mailing was given their envelopes, plus an accompanying spreadsheet to record whether people were in, and what they told us.

That said, although it was some work to assemble, it wasn’t overwhelming. And actually, as a mother of young children who is often at home and not able to participate in external activities, I quite welcomed the chance to play my part by overseeing the mailing production. It was good to be able to put it all together at home in my own time, and find a way to play my part whilst my little girls played or slept.

The number of mailings that we had to deliver went down somewhat: we excluded those regular members who are ‘in the loop’ already and instead sent them an email. Where there was a couple who lived at the same address, we presumptuously gave them only one hard copy between them.

We also discovered that it’s harder than you’d think to find time to deliver them! But once we got out doorknocking we found it was a really uplifting experience: members were generally pleased to be contacted, welcomed the chance to talk about what we were doing, were open to the idea of helping out in the run-up to the election, and thanked us for coming round.

Long term, we await with interest to see what the results would be. We weren’t naive enough to assume that it would only take one letter to engage all 100 members, neither did we think that everyone would fill in the questionnaire. But at least a couple of members have been in touch about attending meetings, and more are now in contact via email. I really think there was a lot of value in reaching out in this way, and would be happy to have a chat with any other wards who are thinking about contacting members and encouraging them to get more involved.

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