The reasons why you are thinking of starting up a support group will influence how you run it. It may be that you suffer from depression or have a serious disease like cancer and want to create a group of people who also suffer from depression or who have cancer so that you can talk to others who will know how you feel. Being 'in the same boat' often means that you are understood without having to explain. You may be caring for someone or may yourself be suffering from some form of dementia or you may be living with a disabled family member. If this is the case, you may want to create the sort of group where people can not only share their worries and difficulties, but can get information about practical and financial issues.

Whatever sort of group you have in mind, the most important things to get sorted out in France are:

Where to meet
The group could start in your own home and then meeting venues could be shared, each group member taking a turn at providing space and refreshments. It would be a good idea to make enquiries about using a room in the Mairie or hiring the salle de féte in your commune, in case a lot of people turn up or if you expect the group to grow. Most maires will be sympathetic to a worthy cause and you may be able to negotiate a lower price if payment is asked for. When you have your first meeting, this will be the time to discuss options with members.

The legalities of meetings
France does not allow groups of people to meet unless you form an association. To read more about this, look at ASSOCIATIONS. It's probably unlikely that you will be challenged and you don't have to form one, but it's very easy and keeps you legally meeting in France. You need three people at least for an association:- a president (you), a secretary (the person who takes the names and is willing to do the admin) and a treasurer. Unless you need to charge a small amount for the hire of a room or at least for coffee and tea etc., you won't actually need a treasurer, especially as associations must be non-profit-making, but you need to have another person to be nominated as one. These three people must meet once a year to make the association legal.

Have a list of ground rules
These don't have to be strict, but having ground rules means that everyone knows the boundaries. Having boundaries stops resentments and makes people feel safer. Simple rules like saying that no-one should interrupt anyone else while they are talking will avoid a difficult situation if you have one member who constantly talks over other people. It means that people can relax in the knowledge that they can talk without feeling that they will be interrupted mid-flow and that they will be listened to. 

Keep an eye on the group dynamics
It's really important to keep a close eye on the way the group works. Once a group has been meeting for a while, the group has a subconscious resistance to new members and you will need to handle that carefully. Watch for quiet members and try to include them. Some people may not want to talk until they are more sure of themselves and the safety of the group, so be aware of that.

Recruit someone to take down people's details
It helps enormously if you can enlist the help of someone who will take down everyone's names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses. You can decide meeting times and days but if there are any unavoidable changes, you will need someone, if it isn't you, who is organised and able to let everyone know of any changes.

Publicise your group
You may be lucky and find that word of mouth is enough to publicise your group, but initially, you could advertise on websites offering free advertising like AngloInfo and French Entreé. You could put up posters in local Mairies and local shops.


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