If you’re thinking about holding a hustings for an upcoming election, we’ve got you covered. This guide will give you tips on how to organise and structure a hustings, as well as important guidance on how to remain politically impartial.

27 Mar 2024

Note on this guidance

You can use this guidance for local council and mayoral elections. 

In May 2024, just under half of voters in England will be able to vote for their next elected combined authority mayor or the Mayor of London. The successful candidates and the authorities they lead will have an increasingly significant role to play in tackling the climate crisis and nature loss. There’ll also be local elections for councillors across England. 

Although some councils and combined authorities have declared a climate emergency, not enough is being done to tackle climate breakdown with the urgency it requires. The elections are a great chance to win real commitments on climate and allow voters to show what's most important to them.

If you'd like to find out more about possible elections (and candidates) in your area, visit whocanivotefor.co.uk. Please note that in some areas candidates might not officially declare their candidacy until 2 April. 

One of the ways you can push electoral candidates on their position on the climate crisis is to hold a hustings, either online or in person. 

We recommend holding your hustings online, particularly for mayoral elections due to the size of regions covered, as this can help boost attendance with people who wouldn't be able to attend in person. It also means you don't have to worry about booking a venue. We've included further guidance below on how to hold an online hustings event. 

Why organise a hustings?

A hustings is a panel discussion in the run-up to an election where candidates debate policies and answer questions from the audience. It's also a great way to secure commitments from candidates, while building relationships with your potential elected representatives. For example, Croydon Climate Action worked with local allies to organise a successful hustings for the May 2022 elections in which all 7 mayoral candidates signed the pledge to drive the Borough of Croydon  to be carbon neutral by 2030. 

Hustings usually feature candidates from all major parties, are most frequently organised by local organisations such as community or faith groups, and are held in the area where the candidates are standing for election. 

You can also use your hustings as an opportunity to get more signatures on our mayoral pledge or your own council pledge to help build support for your campaign and/ or recruit new members. You can create your own council pledge using our template climate pledge letter on Action Network. If you’re not on Action Network yet, get in touch with us at [email protected] and we can get you set up. 

You aren’t restricted to a particular format. Here are a few ideas:

  • Traditional hustings. This is where you have a chair and the candidates at the front of the room (physically or virtually). Candidates are given the opportunity to make an opening statement and then answer questions from the audience in turn with the potential opportunity for candidates to make a closing statement. 
  • Speed hustings. This is a bit like speed dating as the audience is split into breakout rooms and candidates move around spending, for example, 10 minutes in each room. This enables more of a conversation with the candidates, although you might want to invite candidates to make an opening statement in each room. You could give each room a theme, eg transport, green jobs, nature recovery etc, and allow the audience to self-select into these rooms.  
  • Filmed interviews. These are with each candidate and you ask questions that have been submitted by constituents beforehand. You can then share these interviews on screening platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo.  

When choosing your hustings format, think about whose voices get heard, who’s speaking and who’s doing the listening. Hustings are a good opportunity for voters to hear from candidates, but also for candidates to hear from voters about the issues they really care about and what they expect once someone is elected. 

While some hustings will focus on a range of issues, they can also have a specific focus. For example, in 2022 Cardiff Friends of the Earth, as part of the Cardiff COP26 Coalition, organised a hugely successful Climate Justice hustings. 

To show candidates that a broad level of support exists for action on climate, we recommend organising the hustings together with other local allies or groups. For example, if air pollution is a big issue where you live, why not connect with health groups, local teachers, faith communities and other environmental groups? Or you may want to work with fuel poverty groups, trade unions and food banks to focus your hustings on the cost-of-living crisis and how your council or Mayor can play their part.  

Co-organising the event may also boost the number of people you have in the room and help spread the workload. For help on identifying potential alliances,  read our guidance on building allies. 

Friends of the Earth complies with all electoral law and regulations, and we're committed to conducting our activity in a way that's politically impartial. During elections, groups can't endorse or campaign for any party or candidate in their constituency, but they can comment on manifesto pledges and promises by the candidates. To find out more about how to stay impartial, read our political impartiality guide. 

Before the hustings

Decide the basic details

While there's no perfect day or time to hold a hustings, do try and avoid clashing with other local events. You might want to consider holding it in the evening or on weekends when more people can join.

If you do decide to hold your hustings in person, this might work better for local council elections as they cover a smaller geographical area. There are a few things you’ll want to bear in mind:

  • Date: firm up your date as soon as possible so you can book a venue. 
  • Venue: find an accessible venue. Places like community centres and churches are often good venues to choose.
  • Don’t forget to complete a risk assessment for your event.

As you can imagine, candidates will have a packed schedule during the election period, so you may need to arrange a date around their collective availability. Get your request in early and be as flexible as possible (use our template letter to invite your candidates).

You don’t have to invite every candidate standing in your area, as that could become unmanageable. However, you should ensure you invite representatives from all parties that currently hold seats in Westminster or in your local authority. So that would be Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in England, plus Plaid Cymru in Wales, plus any other parties or independents up for election that are already on the council.

Set up the event online

It’s up to you whether you hold your hustings in person or online. However, we're still encouraging groups to host online events where possible, particularly for mayoral elections. Sarah at Blackwater Valley Friends of the Earth said online hustings gave their "community a proper chance to meet their potential councillor and see how they react to genuine relevant questions that have not been rehearsed".

Zoom is a great tool for online hustings and you can set up your own account easily at Zoom.us

It’s worth noting that calls are limited to just 40 minutes on free Zoom accounts, so you may want to set up a paid account for your group. Alternatively, we also have a few paid accounts for groups to use. While we can’t guarantee we’ll have a paid account available, send an email to [email protected] to see if we’ve got a slot available.

The main benefit of Zoom is it's easy and accessible. Anyone with a meeting link can join your call without needing an account. The only person who needs an account is the person setting up and running the meeting: the "host".

The Zoom webinar function will allow you to set up your event so that only the panellists and the host will be able to have their cameras on and unmute their microphones. Audience members will be able to submit questions via the Q&A feature, but won't be able to interrupt or talk over panellists.

To set up your webinar, log in to your account and click on "Webinars" in the left-hand menu. Select "Schedule a webinar" and fill out the details of your event. Make sure you’ve enabled Q&A and only select "Automatically record webinar" if you have permission from all the panellists to record the hustings.

Screen shot of how to set up a Zoom webinar

Watch our handy webinar on how to organise an online hustings and hear some top tips for facilitating an online debate. 

Pick a chairperson/ host

No matter what format you choose for your hustings, you’ll need someone to host or chair the space. Make sure you pick someone who isn't publicly affiliated with a political party.

They can be a member of your group, a local journalist or even a local celeb. If you’re running a traditional hustings, the chair will also need to ensure they’re familiar with the key issues and therefore able to push candidates for clarification.

There’s a risk with hustings that candidates may go back and forth with one another, so pick a chairperson who's also able to maintain order.

Get the word out

Candidates want all the local press they can get during the election period, so make sure you invite local press to your hustings.

When inviting candidates, be sure to let them know that press have been invited or will be attending.

Use Action Network, a digital campaign platform, to support your local campaigning. We've put together an Action Network hustings event template, which is a great way to promote your hustings event and group. Find out more about how to use Action Network for campaigning. 

Tap into your local network including friends, family and related community groups to help spread the word. If you’re able to make a leaflet quickly, you can distribute them outside local stations or stick them up in local restaurants and cafes for maximum impact.

You can use our editable hustings promotional social media images for Facebook and Instagram to share with your network or on your social media. See our guide on how to use social media in your election campaigning, including more images and template posts.

We can help too. Just send details of your event to [email protected] and we can email supporters in your area. You can also use our Action Network tool to create the event page and monitor attendees, so email us if you’d like a free account.


Below is an outline of how to structure your hustings. This is only a template to help your planning, so adapt it and make it work for you, particularly if you’re going to use one of the other suggested hustings formats. Our one key tip is to leave ample time for the audience to speak and candidates to listen, as hustings are a rare opportunity for your community to ask direct questions of their potential future representatives.

Hustings last roughly 90 minutes, or a maximum of 2 hours. If you're doing it online, it might be worth setting the Zoom webinar up to start 5 minutes before the public start time, so that candidates can get settled and fix any connection problems.

In the event a candidate can’t join, don't panic. Ask if their campaign manager can stand in their place. If worst comes to worst, you could ask them to provide a written statement to be read out.

  • Welcome from the chairperson. At the beginning of the event, make sure you mention the name of your group and let people know how they can get involved. If you're doing it online, include a brief introduction on Zoom guidelines (10 mins).
  • Introductory remarks from candidates (15 mins). This can be useful for attendees who aren't familiar with the candidates. You can frame this around an introductory question, such as "what are you going to do about the climate emergency if elected?" to ensure they stay on topic.
  • Questions from the chairperson to candidates (25 mins).
  • Audience Q&A (20 mins). You may want to think through how you want to structure the Q&A. For example, you could ask attendees to submit questions at the beginning of the event via the Q&A feature.
  • Closing remarks from candidates (10 mins).
  • Chairperson closes hustings and reminds people again of the name of your group and how to get involved (5 mins).

Don’t forget to post photos along with key quotes from candidates on social media during your event using #ClimateMayors2024 for mayoral elections or #CouncilElections and #ClimateAction for council elections. This will allow people who were unable to join your event to follow along. Using the hashtag means the entire network can connect with the event too.

Model questions

Good questions are a crucial part of any hustings, as they allow you to probe candidates’ positions and even secure commitments that you can use to hold candidates to account.

Below are a set of questions you may want to ask candidates. Make sure to tailor the questions as much as possible to your local context.

Our climate data tool tells you how your local area is performing on key climate issues, and the results can help tailor your questions for council candidates. Our Climate Action Plans for mayoral areas also contain data on how each region is performing. You may wish to ask candidates about specific policies or issues that you consider most important to your local area.

Example questions for all candidates:

Q1: We know dirty vehicles powered by petrol and diesel are responsible for a serious chunk of the UK’s emissions and harmful air pollution. How would candidates support the greener transport we need to combat the climate crisis and clean up our air?

Q2: The cost of living is skyrocketing, pushing millions more people into hardship and fuel poverty. What would candidates do to address the cost-of-living crisis where we live?

Example questions for mayoral candidates:

Q1: What measures will you put in place to maximise opportunities for green jobs in the area? 

Q2: How do you plan to ensure nature recovery and good access to green space for everyone?

Example questions for council candidates:

Q1: Waste and plastic pollution are a big problem, and we know we can’t recycle or incinerate our way out of it. What will you do as a councillor to ensure that you reduce plastic consumption in our area?

Q2: How do you plan to support doubling tree cover in the area, as part of efforts to transform the way we use our land to help stop climate breakdown and help nature thrive?

Learn from others

Still feeling unsure about organising your hustings? Barnet Friends of the Earth shares its top tips for holding a hustings.

After the event

You’ll probably want to do follow-up posts on social media and in the press after your hustings. Whatever you post or say, remember to remain impartial. The best way to do that is to avoid comparing the performance of different candidates or parties, or saying who had the most support or “won”. Leave that up to the people who attended to decide.

If you’re sharing quotes on social media or in a press release, be sure to share an even spread of quotes from different candidates and avoid endorsing any candidate positions. 

As ever, if you stick to our impartiality guidance you’ll be fine.

Also, don’t forget to follow up with people who came to the event, sharing how they can get involved in your mayoral elections campaign or your local action group going forwards.

Follow up with any partners organisations you organised the event with too. Perhaps think about how to spend some social time together and reflect on how the event went, as well as opportunities to continue to work together going forward. 

Apply for funding

Don’t forget you can also apply to the local action group fund if you need financial support for organising your hustings or any other activities around the elections.