The way our local communities are organised has been fundamentally impacted by COVID-19. Local authorities and community organisations are working around the clock to ensure that residents can access the local support that they need in a way that is suitable for them. Many councils have now set up community support hubs, bringing together council and community efforts to support residents in the response to COVID-19.
Communications teams have a big role to play in coordinating with local partners to meet the needs of residents and ensuring that residents have access to the information they need to get support. Consider:
- Providing an email, helpline or community support hub directly or through an umbrella voluntary sector organisation to enable residents to offer and receive support. This should be clear about how support will be delivered directly to help the local area, separate to the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme. Examples of innovative practice from councils can be found below.
- Map out all the support already available: care providers, public services, charities, community groups, companies and mutual aid networks. Ensure that this information is clearly visible and easily accessible on your council’s website. There is not a definitive national list, but the following organisations are endeavouring to broker information about needs and offers of support:
Here is some notable practice of how councils are ensuring residents know what community support is available to them:
BD CAN is a network set up by the social sector and Barking and Dagenham Council, that operated as the borough’s community-led emergency response to COVID-19. It provided necessities, first through a shopping service and then as demand increased, through a centralised and subsidised food parcel delivery service. BD CAN involved 60 organisations from the social sector working with council services to support over 2000 vulnerable residents with a wraparound support offer that is supportive rather than paternalistic and rooted in the community of Barking and Dagenham.
There are now predictions of a huge increase in demand for mental health services and the local authority will not be able to meet this demand alone. Local partners involved in BD CAN, along with other partners from the social sector, have been carrying out ‘follow-up’ calls to BD CAN users and are offering a variety of social support offers. These include telephone befriending services, along with further options for those requiring more specific kinds of support (such as mental health support and bereavement support) and within changing social distancing guidelines, in-person support options as well. There is not a universal offer for the borough, instead there are a network of groups offering support to those who need it and supporting each other in doing so. This growing network has been called Connect.
Staffordshire County Council launched its emergency food parcel scheme in April by premiering a quick behind the scenes video on all their digital platforms which highlighted the scale of Staffordshire’s new food parcel delivery efforts. The video was shared with hyper local Staffordshire town and village groups on social media, as well as by partners and members. They also sent an all user GovDelivery email highlighting the scheme to over 60,000 subscribers. A second video was later developed to celebrate their milestone 1,000th food parcel delivery.
Collectively, these videos received over 40,000 views with no advertising spend behind them.
Shortly after the delivery of the 1,000th parcel, Staffordshire County Council wanted to encourage residents to contact the emergency telephone line to make sure that they were getting the help and support they needed. Working with NHS England, they were able to obtain the mobile numbers of 6,000 extremely vulnerable people in Staffordshire. A targeted SMS text was sent out to these people using the GovDelivery text system encouraging them to call Staffordshire’s emergency call centre. As a result, they saw an increase of 50 calls a day from people requesting help and signing up for the food parcel scheme.
Through a combination of local knowledge, information shared by residents and mutual aid groups, Redbridge Council were able to compile a directory of resources aimed at helping residents in need of help and assistance during this time of need. Consisting of information about a range of different services, from businesses offering food deliveries to mental health support, the directory has provided vulnerable residents with access to vital information in a central place so that they can get the help they need.
The directory is reviewed on a daily basis, with new information, provided by residents and businesses/services themselves, being added and existing information being updated, meaning that our residents are provided with the most up to date information possible.
In Lewes district, the council’s offer to non-shielded vulnerable residents was communicated through a letter from their leader and deputy leader. The letter was sent in hard copy to all homes in the district along with a leaflet promoting the Community Hub through which residents can access food packages from the council and local food banks. This approach was taken because of the potentially vulnerable rural communities in the area.
In Eastbourne, the council took a targeted approach, sending the Community Hub information to vulnerable residents, using public health and social demographic data to deliver leaflets to the areas of greatest need. They also used a community magazine, The Eastbourne Voice, which was facing financial difficulty in the crisis by part funding its hard copy print run in exchange for carrying multiple pages on Covid-19 related council information. In both areas the councils utilised local community and voluntary groups to deliver hard copy leaflets to areas and individuals using these groups local knowledge. The communications team, which is shared across the two councils, backed up all of the above activity with frequent briefings to members, a social media campaign, use of the traditional media, daily Facebook live Q&As, online interviews with a local MP and local radio interviews
Milton Keynes Council has set up new partnerships with trusted charities to amplify their impact during the pandemic and to showing local people how best they can help.
The council has created an online resources include a ‘good neighbour’ toolkit and a simple graphic that explains what individuals can do and what the council is doing to help those in crisis.
Food Bank Xtra is a supercharged version of a Milton Keynes charity that provided 14,000 food parcels last year. The council has redeployed staff and converted children’s centres into food collection points to meet increased demand. The charity is now sharing more than 500 parcels each week.
People can donate to the MK Emergency Appeal, which the council set up with MK Community Foundation. Public donations reached 17,000 in the first three weeks alone. Donations are funding community groups helping vulnerable people during the emergency.
Councils in the West Midlands came together to launch an emergency campaign, #ComeBackToCare, to get former social workers back to work to plug staffing gaps caused by COVID-19. With one in five of their adult social care workforce off work through sickness or self-isolation, this gap came just as a spike in recovering older people coming out of hospital, was approaching. The campaign website, an application process and a marketing campaign was set up and launched in four days with 14 councils working together - another example of councils being innovative at incredible pace.
Surrey County Council has launched 'Handmade for heroes', in collaboration with the council’s health team. It is a digital campaign asking for the Surrey community to help make urgent PPE for Surrey's frontline workers. The campaign had a great response, having to be paused 24 hours after it launched on social media to 250 email replies, to allow the council to assess the responses received.
Surrey County Council is working with local borough and district councils on its community helpline and community hub to support shielded residents, managing to contact 10,000 vulnerable residents over the Easter weekend. The council’s proactive approach means that if the most vulnerable people can’t be reached by phone, they’re visiting them in person. The council has credited the effectiveness of its approach to collaboration between the police, district and borough councils. They’re receiving approximately 250 calls a day, with the team working around the clock to support vulnerable residents. This approach is receiving positive feedback from those they’re supporting. Their coronavirus webpages have received almost 100,000 visits since they were set up in March.
The Compassionate Community Hub is a project that supports people to look after themselves and others. Co-ordinated by B&NES 3rd Sector Group with support from Virgin Care in B&NES, Bath & North East Somerset Council and the NHS, the project has taken on new importance in the wake of COVID-19. The hub works closely with food banks and volunteers, and has already made more than 500 referrals, to experts and volunteers, for people needing help with food, mental health, wellbeing and welfare.
The first weekend alone saw around 50 people receive help, including 12 urgent food and medication deliveries to their doorsteps. The Compassionate Community also has a dedicated telephone line, open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm.
Hackney Council has published an interactive map of the support services available in the borough. The services are filtered based on the need of the resident, for example ‘feeling lonely’, ‘feeling anxious’, ‘food and meal’, and more. The tool is clear and user-friendly, and the council continues to work with partners to ensure information is kept up to date in light of possible changes or restrictions to services.
Durham County Council’s One Point service has been helping vulnerable families’ mental and physical wellbeing as art of the council’s #TogetherCountyDurham campaign. The team has been leaving parcels, which include drawing materials, playdough and bubbles, on families’ doorsteps. The packs aim to improve mental and physical well-being, as well as give families fun activities to do together. With the services’ family centres and hubs closed for the foreseeable future, the service continues to operate over the phone.
Southampton City Council, Hampshire County Council and the 11 borough and district councils across the county have joined forces with volunteers to support local residents. The county council’s helpline, Hantshelp4vulnerable, will provide advice and information, as well as co-ordinate requests for practical help from elderly or vulnerable residents. Residents can ring the central helpline, and requests will then be passed through to the appropriate Local Response Centre across the 11 districts.
Swindon Borough Council has launched ‘Here for Swindon’ to support communities and businesses through the COVID-19 outbreak. The campaign was launched alongside a package of measures including volunteer support, council tax relief, business support and support for taxi drivers. The eleven different support measures are packaged in the central Here for Swindon hub on the council’s website. The accompanying #HereforSwindon hashtag has been shared by residents and organisations across the borough to ensure residents and businesses are signposted to the support they need.
Whilst staycations aren’t an option at the moment, Visit Southampton has ensured residents are aware of the benefits that activities and attractions, typically thought of as ‘tourist’, can have for the community during the crisis, whilst also supporting local business. Its website now lists which shops might be open for home delivery, as well as restaurants that offer takeaway or are now running stalls where residents can buy essential supplies. Some of the city’s cultural offerings are now even available to be accessed virtually.
Dorset Council has effectively harnessed the power of community action to create its ‘community shield’. The community shield refers to the local response to COVID-19 in which the council is working with public sector partners and charities across Dorset to respond to the impact of the outbreak. A dedicated section of their community response hub is available both for those who need support and those who want to volunteer. It features a regular response brief, signposts to local groups and printable posters that can be used to share key messages.
Dorset has also created a printable poster for those who are self-isolating, advising those who may be intending to visit, of the situation and to leave any deliveries outside.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has asked the city’s businesses and residents to mobilise a “community army” to help those most affected by COVID-19. To help recruit volunteers and to identify potentially vulnerable people, Liverpool City Council has set up two coronavirus hotlines – one for volunteers and one for those who need support. Volunteers will help deliver medication to those in self-isolation or check in with neighbours. The phone lines can also be used to volunteer for Liverpool Foodbanks who require also volunteers across the city.
WMCA has launched a COVID-19 support site, where residents can access free practical courses and materials on topics ranging from online and mobile banking for individuals, to marketing for businesses. Other resources include training in digital skills development, childcare and education, and leadership and employability skills. This will be an incredibly useful resource for residents who may have seen their employment affected by the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, it includes health and wellbeing advice to help people adjust to working at home.
The London Borough of Merton is part of Merton Mutual Aid: a grassroots community organising network established to support vulnerable Merton residents during the COVID-19 crisis. The Merton Mutual Aid website is very user friendly with the homepage divided into two sections asking two very clear questions: Want to Volunteer? Need Support? Each section brings you directly to a clear online form for residents to fill out. The user friendly nature of the website will be particularly appealing to vulnerable residents, some of whom may use the internet and websites less in their daily lives.
Hull City Council is to launch a community response hotline to support the city’s most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. A dedicated number is being set-up for residents who needs extra help if they do not have a support network in place – whether that is with tasks such as shopping, dog walking, or access to other essential service. With a lot of community organising taking place primarily online, it’s positive to see councils considering channels that may be more accessible for vulnerable people, including those over 70.
Melton Borough Council have created a community support hub to bring together businesses, groups and individuals who want to help and can offer services, and those residents who need help. Since launching the hub, the council, businesses and individuals from across the borough have been using the hashtag #Here4Melton to raise awareness of the hub and the support available.
West Berkshire Council has launched a COVID-19 community support hub, alongside Greenham Trust and Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, to give guidance and help coordinate organisations representing their communities. The hub will help organise efforts that are already being undertaken by social media groups and community champions.
The launch of the hub was well documented in local media in an effort to reach residents who may need support, as well as local organisations and volunteers who may be able to contribute vital information to the hub.
Kirklees Council is working alongside citizens and local organisations on a co-ordinated Covid-19 Community Response. This place-based approach includes four new virtual Community Response hubs across Kirklees, where staff are working closely with ward councillors, VCS anchor organisations and mutual aid groups. Kirklees Council has also worked with Third Sector Leaders Kirklees to create the We are with you support blog, which shares advice and information with everyone who is involved in the Community Response in Kirklees.
Rutland County Council has launched a COVID-19 community support hub which brings together the community support and good neighbour schemes across the county. People who are self-isolating or who may need support are signposted to the contact details of a group that can help them. The hub links to support group in its market towns, as well as charity and parish council support.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) communications support and templates
In this unprecedented time, it has never been more important for councils to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders: from residents and businesses to at risk groups and employees. Things are changing hour by hour and with each change comes a new demand for complex communications about COVID-19.