In June 2021 we hosted our first "proper" community gathering in Pico island.
The intention was to build connection between people committed to being in Pico for the long-term, weaving social fabric and opening up possibilities for future projects to emerge.
The gathering is a direct result of our sharing circle, and is intended to act as a heartbeat for our congregation. In many ways, it felt like a climax of the first chapter of our microsolidarity work in the island.
We gathered for 3 days plus additional "prep" and "clean up" days before and after the event.
The hosting team included 4 people.
The theme was "connection".
At the moment of the gathering the Covid regulations allowed for meetings of up to 50 people. However, as we weren't sure this will be a possibility at the time of organising, we decided to keep the gathering as a closed, private event with a guest list.
We were aiming at a maximum of 30 people present.
Participants had a possibility to camp together in one of two campsites in the venue.
The gathering was designed for flexible hop-on/hop-off participation allowing people to join at any time, even for a single activity. Closing the event would significantly limit the amount of people who could participate.
The gathering was children and animal friendly.
Plant-based food was prepared by two chefs (volunteers from our community), rotating on daily basis. Chefs planned their meals and sourced ingredients. Evening salads provided by local organic farm Aldeia Feliz.
Participants were asked to bring their own dish, cutlery and cup, and clean after themselves.
The gathering was free to attend. We placed a "magic hat" to cover the costs of food, gas and materials. Any extra money was donated to Pico Animal Sanctuary.
Here's the invitation we have sent out to people (note that we have removed personal details).
Intention for the gathering planted in the sharing circle
Call for help to host the gathering in the sharing circle. Hosting team of four forms.
Hosting team initial meeting, venue is confirmed
Asynchronous work of the hosting team (activities, invitation, campsite logistics)
Second meeting of the hosting team, compiling the guest list and the program, cooking logistics
Asynchronous work of the hosting team (sending out the invitation)
Sourcing chefs and volunteers from the community
Prep day at the campsite
Logistical sprint (organising campsite, following up on invitations, meal preps, sourcing ingredients, finalising the program)
Hosting team meets for debriefing (setting intention to host another gathering in October 2021)
Feedback forms sent to participants
Compiling and publishing the documentation
18 people (including kids) + 4 dogs camped for the whole gathering.
Additional 10 people (including kids) shown up for various activities throughout the gathering.
We designed the program for no parallel activities, and giving a possibility for chefs to participate in all activities. The program was deliberately spacious, leaving a lot of unscheduled time for people to connect in non-facilitated ways.
The scheduled activities were facilitated mostly by the hosting team with the support of volunteers from our community.
The gathering venue included two campsites, the main fire, two outdoor spaces for activities and meals, a ruin for the closing party, an indoor space with a kitchen for cooking and activities, and another indoor space used for extra storage (we had a lot of instruments to keep safe).
The spaces were all within 15 minute walk from each other, and surrounded by beautiful nature.
We received a total of €290 in the magic hat, which covered the total costs of €200, leaving a €90 donation to Pico Animal Sanctuary.
The costs didn't include blocking the venue from bookings (€79 per night), which was contributed in kind by the owner / member of the hosting team.
A local artist who participated in the Gathering created a beautiful artwork (full of micro-details relevant to Pico) to display during the gathering.
At the end of the gathering we asked the participants to sign / write the message at the back. We intend to keep the sign for the future gatherings and keep adding new signatures and messages.
The Gathering was a big success and we received immediate feedback to host more Gatherings in the future.
New project seeds were planted, but it will take some time to see which ones will sprout into existence.
Identifying areas where specific people would like to contribute for the future gatherings.
Leaving a lot of free space in the program worked extremely well.
Proactive and abundant help for the hosting team from the participants during the gathering.
Sending a quick and easy feedback form to harness insights from the participants immediately after the gathering.
Debriefing session of the hosting team immediately after the gathering.
Good selection of activities
The food was delicious
Angels' Walk (aka Love Tunnel) in the evening of day #2 was a climatic moment of the gathering
The hop-on / hop-off participation didn't work very well. While it wasn't a problem for people in the gathering to leave at various points (to feed their animals, do some work etc.), it was distracting for the whole to have new people show up at various times.
At times people were arriving during activities which was distracting.
More activities could have been designed to include children.
Misjudged quantities for food on the first day which resulted in having beans every day (which became an inside joke).
When nobody shown up to host an activity that was suggested in the program, one of the hosts assumed responsibility to facilitate which was way too much to hold.
The changes in the schedule were not communicated clearly enough. Not using the meal times for (ideally hilarious and engaging) announcements is a missed opportunity.
Missing a board with clearly displayed volunteering commitments.
Host bi-annual gatherings, aiming for Autumn - Spring rhythm (May - October). The next Gathering is planned for October 2021.
Set up a deadline to arrive to the gathering. After that people can still leave if necessary, but there will be no new people coming in.
Setting a specific timeslots for arrivals not to disturb ongoing activities.
Increase the number of people by up to 30% newcomers (expand gradually to preserve the vibe created by the people in the first gathering).
Food & Meals:
Aim for 100% local food in the gathering
Cooking coordinator(s) to create a meal plan and source ingredients. Provide clear quantities and ingredients list for the day to the chefs. Have a briefing meeting for the chefs.
Assume that during the cooking day chefs won't be participating in activities
Include a gratitude moment before meals
Hosting & Program:
Separate hosting the gathering from facilitating activities as much as possible. Reach out to community to seek more facilitators (which would also add new activities into the program). This can be a gradual process for the gathering catalyst/host in between gatherings.
Seek more involvement from the community during the preparation phase. Use the knowledge gained during this gathering to approach people who vibe with specific tasks.
Clear, big, an regularly updated schedule displayed in all campsites. Less walking back and forth between the campsites.
Rotate hosting roles and bring new people in to build redundancy and ensure long-lasting continuity of the gatherings.
Include more physical activities in the program
Maintain the spaciousness and the relaxed feeling of the program. Don't overschedule!
Design more activities for children participation.
Create a list of ad-hoc fun activities (eg. energisers, connecting activities) to be facilitated spontaneously in "waiting moments".
More connecting activities (even if short ones), possibly every day.
Venue & Campsite:
Separate the main fire from the campsite (to make the sleeping space quieter). Consider building a new outdoor space for the fire and activities
Source a gong / bell to set rhythm for meals and activities
Make an explicit invitation to not consume alcohol and other substances during the gathering.
What happens in the space before the next gathering:
Due to the context of living in a small island, we don't need more frequent rhythms to be catalysed in between gatherings to maintain continuity. People already gather for birthdays, music jams, etc. and we also have our congregation projects and other projects in Pico which work well as touch points.
Our first Summer Gathering was a big success. People felt generally more connected, new possibilities opened up, and we integrated more people into our congregation. Time will show if new projects will sprout from the gathering, but it seems highly likely.
The biggest shift is that the Gathering created a feeling of being a family, which is a wonderful feeling indeed.