Following the easing of national lockdown measures over the summer, Blackburn with Darwen became an area of intervention before other parts of the North of England. The situation since then has been changing by the week, making communications challenging.
Blackburn with Darwen is a small unitary council with 149,000 residents. Within the borough are high levels of deprivation and poverty, as well as a high population of young people, which often presents communications challenges to the council. Following the easing of national lockdown measures over the summer, Blackburn with Darwen became an area of intervention before other part of the North of England.
The situation since then has been changing by the week, with several high-profile outbreaks. At times, communications were challenging due to a lack of clarity from central government, late notice of new restrictions being implemented, as well as hyper local restrictions – at times, there have been different rules for Blackburn and different rules with Darwen. Here, Andrea Sturgess, Head of Communications and Engagement, shares her key learnings from the last few months:
- Expect to be frustrated about information flow. Have a simple, timed comms plan ready to react to announcements and be frank about what you have clarity on. Keep elected members and staff at the top of the list of stakeholders.
- Processes work. Agree access to key people in your organisation and points of contact agreed for out of hours.
- Get your hands on every bit of insight and data that you can; from colleagues and nationally. We were so relieved to get post code data to help with targeting of comms. Focus on hyper local comms and grassroots community engagement.
- Use trusted voices/key influencers. E.g. Health partners and Voluntary and Community Sector. Work with them on content creation and use them for getting feedback on the mood of the community and common myths.
- Hold regular online press conferences. We had 35 media enquiries in one day – it soon became unsustainable. Decide on priorities. Enforcement and outbreaks in settings are very newsworthy. Be proactive and prepared.
- Content is king. Adapt what others are doing to meet your objectives. Local voices cut through.
To help manage demand and avoid fatigue as the winter and its extra challenges approach, the team are working closer with the Lancashire Resilience Forum, adopting the LGAs Gold, Silver and Bronze approach for the ongoing comms strategy, and also refreshing the commissioned work with the community and voluntary sector to share the load on the comms and engagement priorities: faith, business, and young people. They are focusing on self-care too, talking about it and encouraging each other to do what works best for each individual.