(P.102) STEP BY STEP - RUNNING A LOCAL CAMPAIGN - Which? Consumers' Association, February 2001

Ed: Following the cancellation of the cinema multiplex development on Crystal Palace Park, we (the CPC) have had many calls to ask how we did it. In fact Which? magazine (Feb 2001) had published an excellent article on just that subject. We present the article here so its helpful comments can be made available to a wider audience - with permission from the Consumers' Association - link to their website at the end.



Want to make something happen - or stop it happening - in your area? We show you how


Getting Started
Know your facts; Build up your case; Know your rights

Getting Support
Local People; Skills and Resources; People With Influence; Local MPs; Experts; Celebrities; Allies

Getting Organised
Motivation; Letters and petitions

Getting Attention
The right message; Local visibility; Media coverage

Whether you want to save a local beauty spot, stop your library being closed, or get a crossing built outside your children's school, a carefully planned campaign will go a long way to maximise your chances of success.

Before you do anything else, clarify exactly what it is you want to achieve, and be realistic about your chances. Be clear about who has the power to make it happen and what you want them to do. For example, you've heard that there are plans to build a car park on a local beauty spot and you want to stop this happening. The developers will need to obtain planning permission before they can proceed. Your aim will be to get as much public support as possible and persuade the local authority to turn down the developers request.



To make your arguments as strong as possible do research and make sure you know all the facts. What legalisation or regulations affect the issue? Local councillors, MPs, MEPs, libraries, colleges and journalists may all be willing to help you find out what you need. If you want to influence your local authority, you'll need to find out exactly how it works. Information can be found from the council offices or your local library. There may also be organisations and web sites that could help with more specific advice, such as how the planning process works. Ask your local citizens' advice bureau for suggestions.


Get as much evidence as you can to support your case. Consider what the objections might be and how you'll counter them. Think about those who disagree with you - can you suggest other ways in which their needs could be met? Suggesting viable alternatives is often the best approach.


Use the system to your benefit. Even if planning permission has already been granted, it may be possible to delay things. For instance, you could request a public inquiry, which would give you time to build up your case. Also, you could find whether the proper procedures have been carried out. Was a proper traffic assessment done? Have local people been properly consulted? There may be regulations that protect the area or add weight to your case. Find out whether it is a conservation area or a site of special scientific interest, or if it is home to any rare or endangered species. If it includes a historic building, could you get it listed?


You have the right to attend most council planning meetings and to be given a reason if you're told you cannot attend. You can see agendas and working papers before meetings, as well as documents on which past council decisions were based. You may also be able to request that public meetings are held at a more convenient time for you.

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To stand any real chance of success, you'll need strong support in the local community. Identify those people who are directly affected or concerned with the issue. Are they aware of what's happening? If you're trying to save a beauty spot, for example, approach people who use it and those who live nearby.

Are there any local groups that use the area? Local schools may use it for nature lessons and may be able to help with resources. Voluntary organisations, local clubs and residents' associations may also be willing to lend their support.

People will differ in the amount of time they can give. Some may be happy to write a letter, while others will be keen to give up a lot of their free time. Make sure everyone feels their contribution is valued.


Most campaigns will benefit from access to a wide range of skills and resources. Find people who can offer the use of a computer (to design and print leaflets, posters or newsletters) or a space big enough to hold meetings in. Other types of expertise could also be useful - such as someone with an understanding of planning laws and local red tape,or someone with a legal background.


Allies on the local council are invaluable - especially those who are members, or ideally chair, of the relevant committee. If you're trying to convert the local authority to your case, then you stand a much better chance if you have allies on the inside who understand the workings of the council. Even if they're not prepared to support you publicly, they may be happy to give you tips on the best way to achieve your aims.


The support of your local MP can give your campaign a real boost, so it's well worth trying to get them on your side (whatever party they belong to). Find out from your local library when and where they hold their surgery. Explain your group's concerns in detail and what you think should be done. If possible, take them to the site you're trying to save so they can see for themselves what's at stake.


Expert opinion can carry a lot of weight and add credibility to your campaign. To support your cause, seek out experts in relevant subjects who may be prepared to give evidence on your behalf - traffic and safety experts or environmentalists,for example.


Getting local celebrities on board, even if they lend only their name and give a quote for publicity, can increase your profile significantly. Look through back copies of your local papers for possibilities (either in the Library or the paper's own offices). Alternatively, you may be able to find a celebrity who has a particular interest in the issue, even if they don't live locally. Contact relevant specialist organisations to see if they have any suggestions.


Find people who have organised other campaigns in the area and pick their brains. This kind of local knowledge is invaluable and can give your campaign a flying start, especially if time is short. They may also be able to help with skills and resources you don't have,and suggest sympathetic local politicians and Y~ other useful contacts. Relevant national organisations may also be able to help with advice and support.

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A campaign that has solid, grass roots support and a team of committed people to drive it stands the greatest chance of success. But campaigning can be hard work, and keeping people motivated is vital - especially when you experience a setback, or when things aren't moving as fast as you'd like. One way to do this is to invite someone with good 'people skills' to take a leading role. Ideally, it should be someone diplomatic who can keep the group together and keep up morale.


A really good way to inspire and motivate people is to show them examples of similar campaigns that have succeeded - and to make sure that all your own successes are celebrated, however small.



We asked people who had been involved in successful campaigns for their top tips.

  • Keep the group motivated and make people believe they can achieve things and make a difference
  • Make it fun as well as serious
  • Pick everyone's brains - don't waste time re-inventing the wheel
  • Get to know the system and use it to your advantage
  • Get people with clout involved (at as many levels as possible)
  • Involve as many people as possible through a letter writing campaign
  • Be bold and outgoing, but don't exaggerate or you'll lose credibility


Leaflet the area and invite people to a meeting. If possible, hold it on a day that the maximum number of people can attend - for example, weekend daytime (you could even provide crèche facilities). You may want to follow up the leaflet drop with door-to-door visits to answer questions and explain the issues in more detail.

When you leaflet the area, you could attach a letter to the council and ask residents to fill in their name and address and send it off - or you could call round to collect it.

Alternatively you could get people to write individually to every member of the council, explaining the problem in detail. Make sure you always outline exactly what it is you want them to do.

Petitions can also be useful, but unless you can get everyone affected to sign them, they are felt by some to be less effective than letters, as they don't show the same degree of commitment

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If you want to be noticed by the media and potential supporters, you'll need a strong, simple, snappy message. This is true for speeches as well as posters, leaflets and other publicity material. Don't make people wade through masses of information - they may well not bother. Try to avoid jargon and summarise your key messages in a few short sentences, including details of what needs to be done and how people can help. You can always make more detailed information available on request.

Think about the impression you're giving. Making your campaign upbeat and positive is likely to attract more support. Even if you're trying to stop something you don't like, try to take a positive tack. Don't just state the problem - outline specific, achievable alternatives.

Find good spokespeople. Ideally you should chose people who are charismatic and can get the message across clearly and concisely, as they may only have a few minutes to speak at a council meeting or to the media.


If you can, make people aware of your campaign in as many ways as possible. | Set up a colourful stall in the high street | or shopping centre (you may need permission to do this). Have enough people manning the stall to talk to passers-by, and plenty of well-designed leaflets. You could also use this as an opportunity to collect signatures for a petition, carry out a survey of local opinion, ask people to write letters to the council or invite them to a meeting. Be sure to let people know what's been achieved so far and how they can help.

Distribute flyers and put up eye-catching posters in as many places as possible- local shops,businesses, libraries, citizens' advice bureaux, schools, community centres, etc.

Organising a publicity event is a great way to attract attention (again,you may need permission from the local authority or the police). Make it entertaining and informative rather than confrontational. It could be as simple as a public meeting with a speaker outlining the problem. Get the participants to dress up in eye-catching costumes and props that will get you noticed and provide a good photo opportunity. To maximise your media coverage, make sure journalists know it's happening well in advance and that the time and place are convenient for them.



Getting coverage in the media is one of the best ways to get your message across quickly and to as many people as possible.

You can do this for free by writing letters to your local paper or putting adverts in a free listings column. If you can, get a local journalist on your side. Look through past issues of the local paper and find names of reporters who may be interested in the issue. Meet them face-to-face. Invite them to a meeting or out for a drink. Keep in touch and make sure they know how to contact you.

However, if you want the paper to cover your story, it has to be news. It won't be interested in opinion or something that's common knowledge. Organise a survey or an event or demonstration that will provide a good photo opportunity. Journalists may also be interested in any personal angles, so seek out individuals who will be affected in some way and ask whether they'd be willing to give an interview.

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Published with kind permission of the Consumers' Association (Which?), Corporate Relations 15/8/02.

Link to their website - click here WHICH?

Ed. note: Text is taken verbatim from the original article. Photographs reproduced with slightly lower resolution. Format altered only very slightly to accommodate web page structure and navigation but otherwise as in original article. We noted that most of the photographs were actually of the Crystal Palace Campaign!

7/9/02 Last updated 7/9/02