Since Meeting Centres first closed to members and carers back in March 2020, they’ve been continuing to provide support in a variety of ways (see some of our previous blogs for examples of the work being done in Kirriemuir, Powys, Leominster and Droitwich Spa). While the focus has often tended to be on virtual sessions, remote support and getting to grips with Zoom (other platforms are available, and we’ve had far more experience of them than we ever expected!!), the role of newsletters has proved to be very important.
Newsletters can sometimes be overlooked or considered a bit old fashioned, but actually what we’ve seen from the Meeting Centres is that they are an integral element of the overall support package. Their members and carers look forward to receiving the newsletters, with many preferring a physical printed copy that they can hold rather than an online version. That isn’t to say that an email newsletter isn’t a good idea, it’s about giving people a choice about what works best for them. Additionally, while a virtual activity session may be enjoyable, it’s only on at a specific time; people can keep referring back to or re-reading a newsletter many times when it suits them.
The following is based on the experiences of people at a few of the Meeting Centres around the UK. Any mistakes are mine not theirs!
So what are some of the difficulties associated with preparing and producing a newsletter?
- The time it takes to plan and put together. It’s a lot of effort which can often be underestimated. One particular area that can take time is looking for quizzes, colouring pages, word searches and similar that are suitable for members and carers.
- A lack of professional equipment and software, especially when it comes to formatting. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and what they are comfortable using.
- The time and cost of printing and distributing paper copies.
- Deciding on which format to use. Email copies are not always read by many people, but as mentioned above paper copies have associated practical issues (e.g. time and costs).
- Thinking of new content each time, especially as some newsletters are produced weekly. It can be helpful when there is a big event or celebration such as Christmas or Wimbledon, as this gives a focus to the newsletter.
What works well, and what are the top tips relating to newsletters?
- Be clear about the objective of the newsletter. It should ideally be light-hearted, informative and fun, helping to stimulate memories, conversations and engage the mind. It should be inclusive and supportive, appealing to all members and carers at an appropriate level. It should also be informative, sharing any important information about the Meeting Centre with members, carers and the wider community.
- Try to keep it gender balanced. There is potentially much more content available for (or aimed at) women, so you need to be aware of this.
- It can be helpful to know what your members and carers like, as well as what their abilities are, as this can help to steer the type of contents and the language used.
- You might want to consider getting members and carers involved in coming up with a name for the newsletter or a logo to use on it.
- Have a standard format or template. It makes it easier for people to recognise and follow as they know what to expect. It can also be easier to produce as you are working with an existing structure and know what elements you need to include. Some ‘regular’ items could include the following, although they would obviously be tailored to each Meeting Centre:
- News from the Meeting Centre
- Fundraising news and activities
- Stories and images around a central theme
- Puzzle page
- Recipe page
- Use newsletters to keep people updated with the services provided by the Meeting Centre and any changes that are taking place.
- Include photos of staff and volunteers so people know who they are, especially if new staff come on board.
- Use photographs and images rather than being too text-heavy (note to self, add more images to these blogs!). One volunteer has also become friends on Facebook with a couple of photographers who are happy for some of their images to be used in a newsletter as long as they are credited.
- Include puzzles or quizzes that members and carers could do independently or together. These can encourage interaction and stimulate the brain, but you need to ensure they are pitched at the right level, i.e. not too difficult but not patronising either. The internet can be a good source for jokes and puzzles.
- Encourage members, carers and volunteers to contribute content, which can help to improve engagement with the newsletter and give people a sense of ‘ownership’. For example, asking people to send in pictures around a theme such as ‘pets’ or ‘Spring’, or asking for favourite recipes. However, you need to give people plenty of time rather than setting short deadlines.
- It can be particularly useful if you have a volunteer or member of staff who is enthusiastic and willing to take it on and run with it. They will get to know what they are doing and become quicker at putting things together, but will still need support so providing items to include can be very helpful. For example, a Meeting Centre manager may give an update on what’s going on from an organisational perspective, or people linked with specific activities or projects could provide information on those.
- A collaborative approach is also beneficial because if it’s left to just one person there is a risk that “you can find yourself going down a rabbit hole of self-indulgence on the topics which appeal to you”.
- Plan ahead. Think about possible themes for future newsletters as you may spot relevant items while working on an earlier edition. As one volunteer said, “I keep a file on the computer for items I come across and store them for a suitable time to use them. Wherever I go, I take photos to use at a later date”.
- Make the newsletter about the members and carers, it is for them after all! For example, include special birthdays (with permission) and pictures of the members doing activities (again, with permission).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. If there are bits people don’t like, it’s better to find out and adjust or replace them, rather than risking putting people off!
What feedback have they received about newsletters?
It can at times be slightly disheartening to put a lot of effort into producing newsletters and not hear anything more about them, so it’s always really positive when people do give a bit of feedback. Comments have included that the newsletter is a “great read” and it’s “good to see everyone” in the photos. Members and carers have also found that going through the newsletter is “a great way to spend quality time together”.
As reported in a previous blog, one family member said “You all do an amazing job with the newsletter etc.” When one manager was struggling to come up with content and considered stopping their newsletter, the positive comments they received from their readers encouraged them to continue as they realised how valued it actually was. People look forward to ‘their’ newsletter arriving, which has been an especially important slice of normality during lockdown.
So we’d like to say thank you to everyone out there who is putting time and effort into producing some amazing newsletters. You are very much appreciated. If you’re stuck for ideas or just want a bit of inspiration, have a look at the Useful Resources page on this blog site, where we’re starting to pull together examples of newsletters from different Meeting Centres which they are happy to share with others.