The shire of Thamesreach (mka London) has seen a happy resurgence of late. From a low point 2.5 years ago (5 members, no regular activities, no events), we now have about 25 paid members, with weekly, bi-weekly and monthly activities for all tastes and budgets.
We are slowly increasing the number of ‘native’ Britons in the group, balancing the circulation of expats who periodically cycle through London.
We’ve hosted official events for the first time in three years, including a successful Known World Heralds and Scribes Symposium.
Best of all, we have new people to play with. Newcomers have revitalised the shire, bringing with them energy, enthusiasm, and creativity: to find new sites, run events large and small, and to learn the arts of war and of peace.
When I stepped up as seneschal, my lord Robert and I discussed how we might draw more people in, without wearing ourselves out. We had limited resources (existing members with time and energy to spend) so we had to pick carefully where to put our efforts.
What emerged is what I’d call a low-key approach to recruiting: doing what we enjoy doing anyway, running regular local activities, and keeping people informed with the website and newsgroup.
The advantages of this approach include:
- you do what you already enjoy – fun for you, and no extra time/energy/money commitment required
- you don’t have to find your target audience - you provide the information, and they find you
- you don’t have to be a great salesperson for the SCA - you just have to be yourself
To make this idea clearer, I’ve some general suggestions based on our recent experience.
NOTE: While I’m convinced of the effectiveness of this approach, there is no One True Way to recruit. The best recruiting method is the one that works for your group – one that helps people find you, and makes them feel welcome.
Some general suggestions for our low-key recruiting approach
Do what you enjoy, and do it locally
For me, the heart of the SCA is attending events, and making cool medieval stuff to use at events. If we run events and make stuff, then we are showing newcomers what the sCA is all about.
The key word is local. It’s hard to convince a keen newcomer that they should join this amazing cool group, and he come along to their next event, that is, um, in two months time, er, over four hours’ drive away.
A complete newcomer needs something local and something soon, to dip their toes in.
Our solution has been local revels, held about once a month. We spend the early afternoon in regular clothing, working on skills and crafts (sewing, painting, rapier training, dance, etc), and the evening in medieval clothing, to mark the start of the event. The food provided is potluck, and we take a donation (‘alms for the hall’) to cover the cost of the site.
Holding small events within London gives newcomers a chance to see people in medieval clothes, eat at a medieval table setting, hear the music, see the games, dances and crafts. They can do all that, then go home the same evening, full of ideas. If they come back for more, you have a hope of encouraging them to consider a larger event out of town some time in the future.
There was an element of ‘build it and they will come’ to this approach. Monthly local revels required a commitment on our part, to show up and run, and they started very small, with maybe six people - four regulars and two newcomers.
It also required a financial commitment from the shire, since the earliest revels did not break even. However, now have a regular turnout of a dozen or more people (peak to date is 21 attendees) - mostly people we didn’t have at all a year or two ago. For me, that’s a worthwhile investment.
Do what you enjoy, and stick to a schedule.
Offering activities regularly is important. We have weekly fight practice, monthly shire meetings and stitch-n-bitch, singing every other week. These predictable gatherings offer newcomers regular chances to drop in and meet us.
It has taken two years to build the schedule we have now. The activities grew only as we gained venues (ie. fight site, local hall), and people to run them. Happily, the ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic of the Society allows for as many activities as people have time and enthusiasm for.
If you’re on a schedule, if someone misses this month’s meeting, there’s always the next one.
Make your schedule accessible.
An online calendar has been a useful tool for tracking our activities. It offers reminders, and you can look ahead to coming dates.
Our website isn’t glamourous, but it’s the easiest way to keep us, and our schedule, accessible. We get a steady trickle of contacts through it – about one to two a month. Not all of these contacts turn into visits, but it assures our visibility and findability with a basic web search.
Part 2: Some questions to clarify how to distribute your recruiting energy
Try to remember what attracted you to the Society in the first place: what drew you in?
At university, I was drawn to the quirky, intelligent, creative SCA people I met through the university archery club. Many of their get-togethers focused on making things (food, clothing, accessories) and they were clearly enjoying themselves enormously.
I soon discovered that I too loved making things myself. And these folks watched Star Trek: the Next Generation together! These were clearly my kind of people.
I still love meeting interesting creative people, and learning to make things. So that’s what I try to offer newcomers: a friendly welcome, and fun medieval stuff to do. It worked for me, so it will work for others like me.
What do you enjoy doing in the Society?
Doing what you enjoy will draw other people to you. Your natural enthusiasm is contagious. They’ll find you online, or while walking past fight practice, or on the train, or in the pub (all real examples of making contacts in Thamesreach).
Example 1: Robert enjoys hitting people with sticks. So a priority for the shire was to reestablish fight practice and publicise it - that way, he’d be able to do what he enjoys. A regular weekly fixture in the calendar means people can ‘drop in’ to visit, without committing to attending an event.
Example 2: I enjoy sewing, knitting and socialising in small groups. Starting a stitch ‘n bitch at a pub (near a Tube station) was an easy way for all those things happen, with a minimum of effort on my part.
The benefit of doing what you enjoy means that you’ll have fun regardless of how many people show up. The only variable is attendance. You won’t find yourself organising a demo, and feeling irritated if noone shows up.
What are your local strengths and limitations?
Consider both your local ‘natural resources’ (pros) and your limitations (cons), and decide how best to use them. There is no One True Way to find newcomers - there’s only what works for you and your group, with your resources.
- A great transport system
- Beautiful parks
- Ample pubs
- Museums/galleries with free admission
- A few SCA-experienced couples in the shire, with a wide range of interests and skills
- Great shopping
- Only three cars between all the shire members in Thamesreach
- Cost of living is high, and some members are on tight budgets
- Most members live in small flats - no backyards, no workshops, limited crash space
Some results of these pros and cons:
- we pick sites that are close to Tube stations
- we’ve held a few ‘picnics in the park’ during summer months, as a cheap, flexible social gathering
- our shire meetings and stitch-n-bitch evenings are in a 17th c. pub just south of St. Paul’s cathedral
- we occasionally organise shopping expeditions together, to introduce newcomers to the excellent sources of fabric, trim, artists’ materials, etc.
- we have periodic ‘beer and museum’ visits: visit one small section or a specific exhibit at a (free) museum, and then go for a beer. This welcome almost-monthly social occasion draws out friends and partners, guests in the shire and curious newcomers.
S in SCA stands for Society - this is a social club.
It’s slightly misleading to call the SCA an educational organisation - it’s a social club, with a history problem*.
To learn pure history, people could take a class, or read a book. To get a fully authentic game, newcomers could join a re-enactment group. What the SCA has to offer is wonderful, friendly people, that combine some history with a whole lot of socialising.
Thamesreachers spend a lot of time at the pub. Going to the pub does not require a membership, or kit, and it introduces newcomers to the shire in a familiar way.
Similarly, going to the museum, shopping together, and working on group craft projects - painting banners and hall decorations - allow all of us to play together. The more experienced folk can ‘share their toys’ (books, tools, and skills), and the newer members learn something.
Shopping and going to the museum are not official SCA activities, but they build social bonds - just like watching Star Trek TNG with new friends did with me.
- with apologies to the Hash House Harriers, the ‘drinking club with a running problem’.
From these questions, hopefully you can:
- figure out what you found attractive in the SCA
- decide what you want to do
- realised what strengths and limitations exist in your shire
The Honourable Lady Genevieve de la Flechiere