The summer fete is New Hinksey CE Primary School PTA’s biggest event of the year; it costs around £700 to put on and raises around £3,500. So when it had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the PTA knew that unless they could come up with an alternative, they would face a massive ‘black hole’ in their income. On a mission to keep funds coming, they decided to try something a little different - a neighbourhood Safari Walk. We caught up with PTA Chair Ben to find out how a suburban area of Oxford transformed into a colourful jungle…
“We’ve got year WhatsApp groups, so the first thing I did was send a message to the year reps saying ‘this is happening, can you disseminate it down into your groups’. We’ve also got a PTA Facebook page, so we set up an event there and directed people to Facebook. Once we got to about 10 people I built the Safari Walk website - which has a sign-up form - and started funneling people through that.” Using the website, Ben was able to build up a mailing list as people signed up, which he used to send out regular updates, letting them know how many people had signed up, how the map was taking shape and of course donations coming in.
The school was still open for some pupils, so Ben sent in details to be included in the weekly newsletter which he hoped all parents would still be reading.
Word of mouth played an important role too: “Walking the dog you’d see people and ask ‘are you taking part in the Safari Walk?’ and then word got around. Once we’d got all our people who were making the animals signed up, I wrote to the local radio stations and asked if they’d have me on to talk about it for a couple of minutes.” After being on Jack FM, the radio station sent Ben a recording of the segment which he was able to share on local Facebook groups, which helped them broaden the message out to other local areas. The story snowballed and was picked up by Oxford Mail and other local media, this helped the PTA get lots of information out while sign-ups were coming in on the website.
Ben even managed to persuade the local estate agent, who’d said they wouldn’t be able to support them this year, to donate £250 and put up advertising boards.
While Ben was promoting the event, the children and parents of New Hinksey were busy creating a multi-coloured menagerie for everyone to explore. Families had a brilliant time crafting sculptures and making paintings to display outside their homes.
All the animals were added to a map on the safari website, anyone wishing to take part could download the app and follow the walk on their phone, or download and print off a map. Over the weekend of 27th and 28th June the animals were set loose as intrepid explorers followed their map to seek out and spot all the animals. Everyone walking the safari route was encouraged to make a donation via the PTA’s giving page.
The catchment area for New Hinksey Primary is quite small and the school has only 165 pupils, so Ben was surprised to see people were logging into the website and donations were coming in from as far away as Spain and the USA!
The committee feel they’re connecting more than ever with the wider community, Ben tells us: “When I joined there was a small group of people who were the PTA, and they were the people who supported the school. Anybody outside of that wasn’t really aware that there was this mechanism for raising money for the school, and raising awareness of the school within the community. One of the key goals I set myself was to get people with a connection to the school to come along to events and engage with the school and I think we’re getting there. We’re seeing a lot more grandparents getting involved, and one of the things I noticed on the Safari Walk was people who went to the school 20-years ago coming along saying ‘we’re here to support Hinksey’, so we need to work out how we get those people along to our next events.”
The Safari Walk was a huge success raising £2,500, and with no costs involved it equalled what they would’ve expected to raise at the school fete. Ben hopes the PTA will be able to run a “something walk” again next year alongside the fete, and that some of the families who took part will become more involved in PTA activities when they’re all back at school.
Ben’s tips for organising a Safari Walk:
Don’t stop talking to people, there’s no such thing as over communication.
- Tell everyone it’s happening… multiple times.
Share regular updates, e.g. We’ve got 20 people signed up already, this is the map at the moment - would you like your house on the map?
- Harness the creativity of the parents; there are many who have no spare capacity to engage and that’s fine, but there are others that don’t normally engage who can.
Been inspired by this story? Here's our tips for planning your own Safari Walk:
- Find out what skills are out there in your school community – Ben is a fundraising professional!
- If you don’t have the time or skills to build a website, use your free PTA Events website (it’s part of your membership) to promote your event, sign people up, create mailing lists and collect donations.
- Local newspapers and radio shows often have ‘what’s on’ guides, and they love good news stories from the local community, so let them know about your events.