Kelly Durbin, Austin, Texas, USA
The current social distancing requirements around the world have pushed all of our support meetings online but these conditions will not last forever. In fact, this break from in-person meetings may be the perfect time to analyze the success of certain elements of your face-to-face support, including meeting location.
The location of your meeting can impact a Group in several different ways. Three important things to consider are site of the meeting space, the local situation and accessibility.
Site of the meeting space
The site is the actual physical building or meeting space where the Group will gather. There are many variables that contribute to choosing an optimal site for your meeting. First and foremost for many LLL Groups is the variable of securing free meeting space. To keep costs low, many Leaders look for meeting space that is free of rental fees or payments because of LLL’s volunteer business model and free nature of our meetings. Some popular free meeting locations include community buildings, libraries, churches and other houses of worship, and private homes. Sometimes arrangements can be made with local chiropractors, birth centers, midwifery offices, pediatricians, birth resource centers or others in the wellness community to use a classroom space or waiting room in their offices.
Another consideration for the site is the physical environment that the space provides. Is the room spacious, and well lit? Are there comfortable chairs or other seating arrangements? Is it a private, quiet space, where participants can breastfeed without onlookers present? Is it safe for crawling babies and toddlers? All of these characteristics can contribute to the success of the meeting. If the participants enjoy the space and feel relaxed in that environment, it may improve meeting discussions, sharing, and perhaps encourage return visits.
The local situation
The local situation in which the meeting is being held is also important. Situation refers to a range of characteristics that might also impact meeting attendance and success. These characteristics include neighborhood safety and amenities, accessibility to the meeting location, and the frequency of meetings. For example, if Leaders were able to acquire a free meeting space at a local church, but that church is located in a high-crime neighborhood, will participants feel confident that they can safely navigate that neighborhood, with their child, to attend the meeting? If the neighborhood is safe, does it have any other amenities that participants might find interesting or appealing? This could include coffee shops, or other fun places to spend some time either prior to or after the LLL meeting. Similarly, if the LLL meeting was near a popular grocery store, participants could combine their visit to the meeting with running errands afterward, shopping for food, or making other necessary stops.
Similarly, issues of access are particularly important for people who may not own or have access to a car. Can participants access the meeting location using public transport such as bus, tram or rail? If this is possible, is the meeting being held during times when the bus or rail lines are active? Will public transport be particularly crowded (i.e., rush hour) either before or after the meeting? For car users, is there safe and adequate parking nearby? All of these challenges are likely considered by participants before making their journey from home to the meeting.
Meeting accessibility, unlike access, is more concerned with the potential barriers that participants may face during their journey to the meeting site. For example, are the bus or rail fares expensive or at peak pricing when the meeting is being held? If the meeting location is more than 400 meters away from the bus or rail stop, this can turn into a long walk during inclement weather (e.g., rain or snow). If mothers have a physical disability or require the use of a wheelchair, are there sufficient curb cuts (dropped kerbs) and safe walkways (footpaths) from the transit stop to the meeting space? Once again, neighborhood safety, as well as transit stop safety, may factor into the decision of participants to make this journey.
Finally, consider the other factors that may affect any meeting location you use or may choose in the future:
- Will holding your meetings in a church be a deterrent because some may mistakenly associate LLL with a particular faith or religious background?
- Is your meeting location in a community that embraces diversity? In other words, will mothers feel welcome in the community or will they feel like outsiders?
- Does your Group offer enough meeting times and locations or is your town or city underserved? Adding additional meeting locations can help expand our reach, especially in larger metropolitan areas where long travel times to and from meetings can be a deterrent.
During my experience as a Leader, I have attended LLL meetings in eleven separate meeting locations in five different US states. Some of the locations have been very accessible and welcoming while others had several disadvantages. One meeting I attended a few years ago, in Pennsylvania, USA, was in a dark room in a church basement. Although the room was large and had ample seating, it was hard to find and there were steep stairs leading down to the meeting room. There was a low turnout and very few mothers attended regularly. We reached out into the community to find other options for the meeting and settled on a local chiropractor’s office. Our meeting was held on a day that the office was closed, which enabled the Group to meet without interruptions. The room provided comfortable chairs, good lighting, access to a bathroom and even a toy room for toddlers. The meeting immediately grew in popularity and was quite well attended. We began to have regular attendees who came back, month after month. A simple change in location gave the Group a breath of fresh air.
It is unlikely that one single location will be “perfect” for all members of our diverse communities. But as we look forward to returning to face-to-face LLL meetings, consider the pros and cons of your current location. Certainly some locations are better able to meet the needs of more people than other locations. Maybe it’s time for a change?
Location, Location, Location by Annette Green
Kelly Durbin has been a Leader for about ten years in the United States with experience leading meetings in five different states across the country. She, her husband and their two daughters now live in Austin, Texas, USA.