Start-a-Group-art - 1/12/10
"Forming a New SCA Branch: A Guide to Getting Started" by Maistor Justinos Tekton called Justin.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
You can find more material from this author on his website at: http://sca.4th.com/justin
Forming a New SCA Branch: A Guide to Getting Started
by Maistor Justinos Tekton (called Justin)
If you are reading this, it is probably because you -- and perhaps a few acquaintances -- are interested in forming an new branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Welcome! The task you are considering is a long one, and completing it will require commitment and lots of work. It can also be one of the most rewarding experiences in your SCA life. I know this personally, for I had the privilege of being the founding Seneschal of the Marche of Alderford (http://www.alderford.org/ ), the local branch serving Stark and Carroll Counties here in Ohio. Later, as the Oaken Regional Seneschal, I considered it an honor and a cherished privilege to help other new groups along the road from their first organizing meeting to their advancement to permanent, full-status shires and cantons.
For those interested in forming a new local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism within the Middle Kingdom, there is an excellent and highly detailed New Groups Workbook that is published by the Middle Kingdom Deputy Seneschal for New Groups. That guidebook, as well as the SCA and Kingdom policies which are available online or in print from those organizations, are the definitive sources of information about starting a new group.
This document, on the other hand, is provided as a starting point only, and is written to help you through that brief period before you have all the more official information in hand. The most current version of this document is available online at http://sca.4th.com/justin/articles/new-groups-intro. Although I sincerely hope you find this article helpful, please remember that this is not an official publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, nor of the Middle Kingdom, nor of the Middle Kingdom Seneschal, and this document does not delineate policy on behalf of any of those entities.
What is a Local Branch?
Local branches within the SCA come in three basic types. A shire is a local branch that is part of the Kingdom (and of the applicable Region), but not part of a Barony. A canton is a local branch that is part of a Barony as well as the Kingdom and the Region. A college is like a shire or canton, except that it is allowed to "go dormant" during the summer school recess months.
There are other types of local group, but these are the most common. In some areas you will hear some groups referred to as the "Marche of Something-or-other". The term "Marche" has no official meaning in the SCA organization, and is simply an additional part of the name based in some traditions that were established years ago.
A barony is a larger group that has "landed nobility" in the form of a Baron and a Baroness who "hold the land in fief to the Crown". Baronies can be the most-local level of the organization in some cases -- typically a large city -- but also can be a "shell barony" that contains cantons within it. It is highly unlikely that you would be allowed to form a barony out of thin air in most kingdoms; generally, baronies are formed when existing local groups grow and thrive over a period of years.
A region, which does not exist in all kingdoms, is purely an administrative division, because many Kingdoms are too large to manage as a single unit. A region has officers who are technically deputies of their corresponding Kingdom officers, but a region does not have any landed nobility or other in-period officials.
If you are interested in forming a new group, then you will probably be wanting to form a shire, a canton, or a college, depending on your local circumstances.
Should You Form a New SCA Branch?
Most people who decide to form a new SCA branch are doing so because of the long driving distance to the nearest existing group. SCA members are willing to drive hours to a full-day event, but it can be annoying to have to drive an hour or more just to get to a weeknight meeting that may only last a couple of hours in the first place.
Only the interested parties in your local area can decide whether forming a new SCA chapter is the right thing to do, and only you can decide if you're willing to commit the time and effort to doing so. It is a process that will take several years, and a lot of work, but which also is tremendously rewarding. Although you, the interested members, must provide the raw energy and commitment, you need not work alone. Nearby local groups can help you either informally, in the form of advice and a general support network, or formally, as a sponsoring group of a particular event or as an ongoing sponsor of the new group itself.
Finally, at the Regional level (if applicable in your kingdom) there are several officers who can assist and advise you as well. The Regional Seneschal and other Regional officers are committed to assisting new groups in understanding the policies of the Kingdom and in overcoming the problems that inevitably arise with any group.
In some cases, there may be good reasons why you should not form a new group. If you are simply trying to foster comraderie between like-minded individuals, and there is a nearby group already established, consider forming a household or guild instead. These are much less formally organized than a true shire or canton (in fact, households have no organizational requirements with regard to the SCA, as they are completely unofficial). Yet they still offer individuals with common values and interests a chance to do things together as a smaller, more intimate group. You can be a household member and/or a guild member and still be a loyal and active member of your local shire or canton.
Administering (Sponsoring) Branches
In order to benefit from SCA sanction and insurance coverage, any group that is not yet full status must have sponsorship from a full-status group for any event, demo, or other SCA activity other than a routine business meeting at which no combat occurs. The technical term for this is "administering branch", but it is often referred to as a "sponsoring branch" or "sponsor" for short.
Sponsorship can in some cases be for a specific activity, but more often it is a more lasting, mentoring relationship between your new group and an existing local group or barony. There are many benefits to this mentoring relationship, as you can imagine. Some kingdoms may mandate which group must be your sponsor, or they may let you negotiate with the group of your choice, but often the details of the groups' relationship to one another is left up to the two groups to work out. Generally speaking, a group is not required to sponsor a new branch, so it is very strongly in your best interest to establish cordial relationships with your neighbors from day one.
If your group is within or adjacent to a barony, you may request them to act as your sponsor. Again, this is voluntary on their part. A Barony could be your general sponsor, but you can still (with their consent) ask a local group to sponsor any particular activity.
The need for sponsorship is for your protection as well as the SCA's. For the SCA there is the obvious need to ensure that SCA rules are followed, to avoid liability or legal problems that might jeopardize our nonprofit status or cause lawsuits. For your benefit, by being an SCA sanctioned event your activity gains the protection of SCA insurance and also can be publicized in SCA newsletters and web sites. This requirement continues until you become a full status group.
A newly-forming group also cannot hold money in the name of the SCA and cannot have a checking account. However, your administering/sponsoring group can hold money for you in their checking account, simply earmarking the funds that are raised by and for your new group. If the group should fail, these funds remain the property of the SCA, but if your group becomes full status you can have that money transferred into your group's own checking account (still SCA property, but under your local control).
There are some things a newly-forming group cannot do, but there are many things you can do as well:
¥ Hold business meetings, arts and sciences classes, etc.
¥ Hold fighter practices WITH AN SCA-WARRANTED MARSHAL PRESENT
¥ Hold archery practices WITH AN SCA ARCHERY MARSHAL PRESENT
¥ Publish a newsletter (unofficial) with appropriate disclaimer (contact your administering branch's Chronicler for details)
¥ Publicize your new group in the community and invite members of other groups to participate at your activities
¥ Participate fully at other groups' activities and events
¥ Rely on your Kingdom, Baronial and Regional (if applicable) officers to perform their duties for you according to SCA and Kingdom policy
¥ Choose a group name and design an heraldic device
¥ Hold events and demos WITH SPONSORSHIP FROM A FULL-STATUS GROUP OR BARONY
¥ Register to camp as a group at Pennsic War or most other large events
After some period of reasonable growth and stability as a new group, you can petition for advancement to full status. A full status group can have its own checking account and can hold events without sponsorship by another group.
There is NO FIXED TIME PERIOD for any of these stages -- it depends purely on your group's activity level, growth, stability, and demonstrated capability to resolve problems. When considering a group for advancement to the next stage, no one expects there to have been "no problems" -- instead, it is expected that people worked together to solve what problems did occur, and that they did so in a way that didn't break the SCA's organizational rules. It is likely to take several years to advance from founding to full status, so patience will be a needed virtue.
People Who Can Help You
Let me now introduce the people who will likely be key players in this effort to form a group, should you decide to pursue this.
(If applicable in your kingdom) General contact for information about local rules and policies.
Kingdom New Groups Deputy
In some Kingdoms, there is a specific person who reports directly to the Kingdom Seneschal and who advises and assists new groups in preparing for advancement.
If your group is in land claimed by a Barony, this officer will be your local Seneschal's immediate superior in the chain of command.
Administering Branch ("Sponsoring") Seneschal
The Seneschal of a full-status local group, or of a Barony, who serves as an advisor and mentor to your local Seneschal. For new groups that will be cantons of a Barony, the Sponsoring Seneschal and Baronial Seneschal may very well be the same person, but this is not always true.
You should be able to find the contact information for these individuals in your Kingdom newsletter.
Beginning the Process
The "core group" of interested parties in your area need to figure out among yourselves what your level of interest is. If you find that you want to move ahead, the next logical step is to contact the people listed above and let them know that you want to form a new group. You can also begin to plan for an organizing meeting, which would be publicized to some extent in the community at large, and which is the real "kickoff" of your proposed new group.
In Alderford, the local group that I helped to form, we posted flyers around local libraries and colleges and contacted local newspapers describing (in brief) the SCA's purpose and the date, time, and place of the organizing meeting. We had about 22-25 people at the organizing meeting, and 18 of them were interested enough to return to the Marche's first "real" meeting. Our organizing meeting was held in the story-hour room at the local library. It's a good idea to contact the nearby local groups, barony, and your Regional Seneschal, about this meeting, because having some experienced officers on hand can help to field questions from the newcomers. Members of your organizing team may already have SCA experience, but forming a new group is a different matter entirely from just playing in the SCA.
If the outcome of your organizing meeting is a decision to proceed, you're on your way! Find a regular meeting site and set dates for the next few meetings. You can begin to choose a slate of acting officers (many of your officers do not receive warrants until the group advances to full status, but rather function as deputies of the officers in your administering/sponsoring branch). Each acting officer should immediately contact his or her superiors at the Regional and (if applicable) Baronial levels as well as at the sponsoring branch.
In the end it is up to you, those interested in forming this proposed new group, to continue the process from here. Hopefully I have provided you with sufficient information to get started, if that is what you wish to do. Your next step should be to contact prospective members of your new group, and the officers listed in previous sections of this document.
Copyright 2006 by Scott Courtney. <Justin at 4th.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.