London Borough of Hackney: Charedi Orthodox Jewish community engagement

The Charedi Orthodox Community in Hackney leads a highly observant, communal religious life, with no access to TV, radio, mainstream media and little digital access. The council needed to consider how to get public health messages to the community without using digital communications.

The Charedi Orthodox Community in Hackney is largely concentrated in Stamford Hill. At approximately 30,000 people it is the largest Charedi community in Europe and households are very large, often intergenerational.

The community leads a highly observant and communal religious life, with no access to TV, radio, mainstream media and little digital access, however there is special dispensation by religious leaders for business-critical purposes. This meant that the council needed to consider how to get public health messages out to the community in a timely manner, without recourse to digital communications.

The community has high levels of distrust of secular institutions, including of local government, which is linked to history - they worry about how the data will be used Past interactions with Hackney Council around Yeshivas (unregistered schools) had sometimes led to a combative relationship with the council and distrust of the council’s motives.

The council knew that it needed to improve its knowledge and cultural competency if it was to inform and engage with the community on Covid-19. The council’s communications team didn’t have anyone from a Jewish or Charedi community, meaning there was a knowledge gap within the team.

Charedi communities in New York and Israel had already seen disproportionately higher infection and death rates from Covid-19, and there was a risk of a similar outcome in Hackney. Large multi-generational families, alongside collective worship and study indicated that the risk of infection was likely to be higher. A number of religious festivals during spring and autumn presented significant risks. Communications shouldn't be cascaded during crucial religious periods - eg during Passover. So, the council needed to work with the community to develop a bespoke communications approach to meet their needs.

Communications and engagement partnership with the community

The council quickly established a working group to focus on communications and engagement, expanding this representation in other areas of its work. All communications messages and materials were shaped with community partners. Trusted community organisations including Hatzola, Shomrim and Interlink amplify the council’s messages.

Hackney has focussed largely on door to door distribution, paid for space in community publications, texts from GP surgeries and trusted community voices. The council also worked with partners to take communications across the border to Charedi households in Haringey and beyond. Charedi communications during the first national lockdown included an eight-page service focussed newsletter to every Charedi home in Hackney and Haringey.

The council found that using the community’s own terminology was most effective in getting messages across and being able to engage – for example, using the Yiddish work for synagogue, shuls (schools). Working with community leaders was particularly effective, including a community-specific ambulance service. Community safety organisations in the Charedi community fed back to the council, who could then adapt their messages based on community feedback. They have found that the ‘Keep Stamford Hill Safe’ messaging is most effective. Community partners have been very positive about the joint working on communications.

Key learnings

  • Empower communities to be part of the solution/an extension of your team
  • Use key social influencers in the community - authentic voices that are trusted and existing community social infrastructures, such as: Faith leaders, health professionals, family members and friends
  • Developing culturally sensitive messaging that speak to community values across cultural contexts is very important
  • Importance of continuing to develop knowledge and cultural competency
  • Importance of community insight - understanding the barriers to vaccine acceptance and working to reduce those barriers, myth busting
  • Co-producing and co-designing behavioural change campaigns with your communities