Wirral Council: Listened to the ‘voice of the resident’ and engaged with hard-to-reach communities

Wirral Council developed a programme - ‘Community Connectors’ to address health and wellbeing disparity at a local level.


This is part of a series of case-studies published on 22 February 2021.

  • Developed a programme called ‘community connectors’ to address health and wellbeing disparity at a local level. 
  • Set up a ‘cell structure’ to help manage their pandemic response
  • Have a public health expert ‘on call’ to respond to queries and questions at all times.

Challenge: Understanding and addressing people’s concerns and needs during the pandemic is challenging. Especially hard-to-reach groups, who may be disengaged or distrust authority sources. On top of this, policies change rapidly, meaning messages have to be adjusted and re-sent regularly.
 
Approach: Before the pandemic, the council developed a programme called ‘community connectors’ with the goal of addressing health and wellbeing disparity at a local level.

'Community connectors' are local residents with roots in their communities who have been recruited to address any issues which may be affecting the health and wellbeing of individuals. 

This programme was built on asset based community development (ABCD) principles, and integrated behavioural science principles from COM-B in its delivery. Community Connectors are employed by a third sector partner enabling them to be flexible about how they deliver their work.
 
When the pandemic struck the council were able to use the community connector programme to work on a range of COVID-19 challenges. For example, during the first peak, community connectors helped move furniture, assisted hospitals to discharge patients, deliver food parcels and provide wellbeing calls.

Although no longer able to go door-to-door community connectors hold virtual coffee meetings and communicate across their network.  A key role of the connectors is to also gather information from people and in turn disseminate key messages related to COVID-19.

This gives Wirral the ability to understand residents’ attitudes, concerns and needs and provides a strong ‘Resident Voice’ in the council response to the pandemic.

Importantly, the council’s online information resource, 'Wirral Infobank' is managed by the community connectors. This means that the content reflects localised challenges. It has had over 500k hits since the start of the pandemic.
 
Outcome: The council is now using both the 'community connectors' programme and 'Wirral InfoBank' to encourage vaccine take up. Together, they form a feedback loop which enables them to address people’s concerns about the vaccine in a targeted and timely manner:

  1. Community connectors organise online events with residents to talk about their feelings, attitudes or experiences about the vaccine
  2. Insights are picked up and thematically analysed to tailor communications 
  3. These are then disseminated back into the community through the local community champion network. 

Key Learning: Leverage existing relationships with key organisations in the local community and let the insights gathered from conversations steer the messaging.
 
Quick Wins: The Wirral set up a ‘cell structure’ to help manage their pandemic response, providing clear roles and responsibilities across issues and services the council delivers. The humanitarian cell has the council as one of the partners alongside over 70 community groups and organisations. Regular meetings are held within each cell and issues arising at a local level can be escalated and addressed at a strategic level.
 
Another ‘quick win’ Wirral adopted is having a Public Health expert ‘on call’ to respond to queries and questions at all times. This provides call centres staff and residents access to definitive answers on current policy, best practice and advice. This immediate and consistent support means questions can be addressed as they arise. It also builds trust in the local structure and community response.
 
Contact: Nicola Jones  
nicolajones1@wirral.gov.uk