A block party is the perfect way to meet and catch up with your neighbours, have some fun, and build a sense of camaraderie within the community. But planning and coordinating a neighbourhood shindig can be as stressful as it can be fun, so we’ve laid out a detailed do-ahead guide to take the trepidation out of your next affair.

Getting Started: Where, What, When?

First things first: start planning at least 1 or 2 months in advance, and get together with as many neighbours as you can to pick a mutually convenient date, time and location. To ensure a good turnout, it’s always a good idea NOT to plan the event during a long weekend/holiday period. For outdoor events, take the weather at different times of day into account. Pick a location based on the size of the gathering (don’t forget the party furniture and cooking equipment!), space for kids to play, ease of access as well as shade/parking available. As far as funds go, start with a budget, determine the sources of funds and stay within limits.

Build Bonds: Invite Every Neighbour

Next, establish the radius for the party and list out ALL families residing in that area – sorry, no exceptions. Once you’ve finalised the guest list, choose how you want to invite them. While old-fashioned paper invitations offer a personal and tangible form of communication, e-sign-up systems (e.g. SignUpGenius) are especially handy in facilitating large group management, potluck co-ordination and even payment collection, whereas web-based invitation services (e.g. GREENVELOPE) are environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and less clunky, providing clickable and detailed information and making RSVP tracking and reminding easier. Nudge fence-sitters/RSVP laggards and firm up the attendee list by calling and checking about a week after the RSVP deadline has elapsed.

Get Everyone To Pitch In

Intimidated at the prospect of a large gathering? Make it easier on yourself by getting everyone to contribute in some way. Ask for help in organising, and select a manageable team with similar wavelengths. Assign tasks based on abilities, skills and experience of members. Enlist support from community groups such as banks, hospitals, firefighters etc. Involve older kids and teens in distributing fliers and in organising and managing various activities the day of the event. Food-wise, consider a potluck where participants bring in their favourite starter, casserole, dessert or refreshments.

Know Policies, Obtain Permits, Complete Paperwork

Depending on the scale of your bash and location, you may need to apply for area closures or special permissions several weeks ahead of the scheduled date. Some neighbourhoods require insurance applications to block off public transit routes, streets and so on; others need permits to serve alcohol and use grills; still others have noise laws for parties that run late into the evening. Oftentimes, these formalities can be fulfilled online, or via a call or in-person visit to your local municipal office.

Think Risk, CYA

Before the event, you’ll want to draft and circulate guidelines among all party attendees concerning safety, bringing (or not bringing) four-legged furry friends to the party, feeding pets, fire pit or barbecue usage, potential hazards at the venue (e.g. uneven terrain, yard equipment, loose stones etc.), and the rules about trespassing on neighbouring yards. Encourage everyone to assume responsibility for themselves and their families, but be sure to sign accident liability waivers (if needed) and check if additional event insurance coverage is required.

Décor Wise: Use Your Own Or Just DIY!

Decorations and parties go together, but that doesn’t mean breaking the bank or the planet. Rather than buy fresh supplies, use what you already have (think flowers and greenery already present at the venue, re-purpose holiday decorations and so on). For party wares, go eco-friendly: ditch the disposables by urging participants to bring their own inexpensive utensils, serve ware, lawn chairs and grills. Alternately, shop thrift stores for party crockery and cutlery. For decorations, draw inspiration from online DIY tutorials and whip up pom-poms, bunting, linens and lanterns in minutes.

Plan A Potluck

In organising a potluck, divvy up responsibilities among families by food categories (e.g., salads, entrees, main course, side dishes, desserts and drinks), making sure there are sufficient varieties in each category. Be aware of dietary restrictions/allergies, ask participants to bring bites that are simple, tasty and healthy, and keep everyone informed on what the others are getting to avoid doubles. Include a mix of vegetarian, non-vegetarian, vegan and kid-friendly options in each category to cater to diverse interests. Get easy, delicious and healthy block party bite ideas here and here, and oh yes – don’t forget to call the ice cream truck.

Plan Activities For All Age Groups

Make your party a hit with all age groups by including a mix of childhood games as well as learning and community-building activities. For kids, old-school classics like sack races, water balloon tosses, scavenger hunts, sidewalk chalk and frisbees provide endless entertainment and also require little setup time and effort. For grown-ups, why not do things a little differently, as Good Magazine suggests, by asking talented community members to share their skills e.g., knitting, crocheting, gardening and yoga? You can even try reading nooks with story hours, polaroid photo booths, karaoke, open-air cinemas, tree planting sessions, mural projects and small flea markets.

Clean Up

Before commencement, ensure the assigned team inspects the venue for trash and dangerous objects. Should there be drink spillages or accidental breakages/messes while the party is in progress, Kira and Michelle from recommend setting up a clean-up station/tub outside stocked with cleaning supplies to avoid umpteen trips in and out of the house. For compostable waste, recyclables and other trash, provide separate bins throughout the venue and see that appointed members stay back afterwards to take down party-related installations and clean up any mess left behind.

Remember That….

The secret to a successful block party is to keep everything from décor to activities as simple and informal as possible. Expect that things won’t always go according to plan – anticipate problems, allow some wiggle room for uncertainties, and have a Plan B on standby wherever possible. And when you’re caught off-guard, don’t panic: “don’t sweat the small stuff…” Go with the flow and solve the problem calmly with the best available resources at hand.

Article by Purnima Shrinivas

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