Well, you've got interested members for your new support group or homeschool activity, you've decided on structure, you've ironed out a terrific mission statement, and you're all ready to go when it occurs to you that you have no place to go. While the thought of hunting up space can be intimidating at first, it doesn't have to be a torturous experience. Space for meetings and activities can be found in the most unexpected places sometimes. You just have to know where to look.
One of the more obvious places to look, particularly if you are looking for space to hold a “parent's only” meeting, is your local library. Many libraries have meeting rooms specifically set aside for public use. Check with your local branch library and see what their policies are. Some libraries mandate that meetings are open to the public, that no food is served, or that activity (and its subsequent noise) is kept to a minimum. Others are far more relaxed about usage, allowing and encouraging any of the above. While there can be some drawbacks to library space, there are some distinct benefits as well. It's neutrality as a meeting space as well as rooms that are often perfect for parent gatherings or small study groups, make the library an appealing choice for meeting space.
If your local library doesn't work out, don't neglect to check on other community spaces, even the unexpected ones. Community centers are always a good starting point, although some can be a bit expensive. Others however, are free or are available for minimal rental fees. Here in my area, fire stations have rooms available for community use. These rooms are only available on a “first come, first serve” basis, so it can be a bit of a challenge planning ahead, but it's certainly worth the effort to check out. Hospitals also often have meeting space available for educational activities, speakers, or other seminars. These spaces, while most often used for hospital purposes and continuing medical education, could also be available to other community groups.
Don't just think about indoor space, move farther afield. Particularly if you live in a warmer environment, parks can be a wonderful choice for meetings or activities. Bringing along the children becomes much easier as there is space to roam and often large toys to play on. Check all the parks in your area, including state, county, and local parks. Parks can also be particularly suited to those “messy activities” that can be a bit of a challenge to plan and implement. Science experiments, messy arts and crafts sessions, games involving lots of children, and other art experiences can be eminently suited to the park's space. Check with the park of course to see what is and isn't allowed. Some parks even have covered meeting spaces or buildings available if your climate demands something indoors during the winter months.
Don't neglect a friendly parking lot for activities of a messy nature too. After checking with the owner of the space, pick a day when the parking lot isn't likely to be full (on a Thursday at a church for example), maybe rent a canopy or awning if the weather demands it (sharing the cost among all the participants), and you're on your way. It may be that the establishment from which you are asking space has items of this nature and is willing to lend them to you. Thinking beyond your typical community center, Grange halls and VFW halls are also a good spot to check, as are your local County or State fair grounds. County and state fairgrounds usually have space for local 4-H groups and other community groups to meet. Even your local Saddle (horseback riding) Clubs have space that sits empty some of the time. Any one of these organizations might be willing to allow you to use their space. If the space rental fee seems high, don't be afraid to try and work with the owners of the space in hopes of negotiating a lower fee. Perhaps they need gardening or some custodial work done around the building. Giving your time and energy to those tasks might bring the space rental within reach.
Local children's clothing, toy, and learning stores can be a wonderful resource when it comes to looking for space. A good tip in determining whether a store might have space in addition to their retail space is whether they offer a preschool, birthday parties, or other special occasion events for children. Ask if they allow local community groups to use that space as well. Stores are often looking to expand their customer base, and allowing community groups comprised of parents to use their facilities is one way of being able to do that. Preschools can also be a great choice as you look for space, particularly for the homeschool group that would like to always include the children in their meetings. Check carefully with the preschool. Ask lots of questions. Which toys can, or cannot, be used? What is the clean-up policy? Is there space to store your own supplies? What are the rules for outdoor play? Obviously checking carefully and being clear about details is always a good policy for any space, but with a preschool and all of its equipment, it seems particularly important to be extra clear about the rules. One other retail space that might work well for an adult oriented support group meeting is a local bookstore. Some of the bookstores even have a “coffeehouse” or espresso bar that might be perfect for your group.
Many churches allow community groups to meet for a minimal fee or for free, especially if one of their members is also a member of the community group. Churches who offer a wide variety of Sunday school experiences often have much of the same equipment as preschools, as well as storage space that might be utilized by your group. Offering kitchens, large fellowship halls, and versatile space at a reasonable fee, churches can be a saving grace (if you'll forgive the pun) to many community groups. As with any space, there are things to consider. As mentioned above, many churches will only allow members to use their space, severely limiting your options if that church member leaves your group. It's also important to carefully consider the thoughts of the homeschool group members who might object to meeting within the church's space. Someone who doesn't wish to meet within the church's space isn't necessarily “anti-religion”, but may be considering the impact of being aligned with any one particular denomination. This is especially an issue in groups where many different faiths might be represented.
Many homeschool groups just starting out begin their meetings in member homes. They feel perhaps that until the group grows substantially, it makes no sense to search for other space. Established groups can also prefer the intimacy and ease of meeting in member homes. There are plenty of options available since the children and parent meetings can be conducted within easy reach of the kitchen, always a handy thing. Several things are important to consider when meeting in member homes. The host/hostess of the meeting might feel compelled to provide refreshments and may find hosting duties take over and prevent full participation in that night's meeting. New, potential members might also find the idea of meeting in member homes a bit intimidating and would prefer a more neutral setting. Others however, might feel the opposite, comfortable and far more willing to meet people in a more homey atmosphere. As with any space, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and determine the best fit for your group.
Searching for meeting space for your homeschool support group, activity group, or co-op doesn't have to be painful in the least. Nor does that space necessarily materialize right away. You might find that well into your first, or fifth, year that a member owns just the space that's perfect for the group, or a new little shop opens up around the corner that has ample space for your messy art project with the little ones. Keep your eyes open and look in unusual places. And remember. . . it never hurts to ask!