Communicating with residents and ensuring they receive up to date, accurate and accessible information has never been more important as we work to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
Councils communications teams are working round the clock with Leaders, chief executives, partners and public health teams to ensure that as many residents as possible are receiving this information.
In addition to social media, websites and community support hubs, comms teams are utilising their e-newsletters to send daily updates directly to residents.
Here’s how some councils have been keeping their residents up to date:
Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council are using a network of community champions to communicate with residents about COVID-19. Fortnightly in-depth information sessions are held for champions, led by the public health team. Topics covered are led by conversations with the champions, providing their insight on what residents are struggling to understand and common questions they’re asked. The communications team facilitates a fortnightly informal catch up with champions. This is a forum to have an open and honest conversation about what is and isn’t working message-wise and gathering any insights, offers of support, suggestions and feedback from what champions have helped with. Key messages are sent to champions every Monday via email, champions receive press releases at the time they are issued and have a dedicated inbox.
Since launching on 7 September, 150 champions from across the community have been recruited. The data collected upon registration enables the council to target specific areas of the borough or communities in response to data on positive cases. There have been valuable insights gathered which have enabled the team to tailor communications specific to communities rather than a one size fits all approach. Champions are also reporting back better compliance particularly around wearing face coverings. The council are now aiming to increase the network with young people, businesses and parents/grandparents/carers.
South Gloucestershire Council have updated their guidance for events and celebrations in preparation for Halloween, Bonfire Night and Remembrance Day, advising people stay at home where possible. The council has also produced new communications assets, including posters and a video on COVID-19 Halloween themed guidance.
The NHS, local authorities, Leicestershire Police, universities and Leicestershire and Rutland Sport have joined forces for a new campaign ‘it’s down to us’, encouraging people to change their behaviour during the pandemic – whether it’s on the school run, travelling to work or out in a public setting. The campaign is intended to reinforce with residents that they place a big role in lowering infection levels. Leicestershire County Council’s director of public health, Mike Sandys, is one of the leading voices behind the campaign, telling residents to get a flu jab, reduce your contacts, self-isolate when you need to and avoid crowded areas. Businesses have also received tailored messages, outlining their role in helping to stop the spread of the virus.
As of mid-October, Liverpool is facing some of the highest rates of COVID-19 and as a result, has been placed in tier 3 local restrictions. To show residents the severity of the situation, and the reality of hospitalisations, Liverpool City Council has shared on social media footage of a local intensive care ward as well as interviews with medical professionals who are working through these conditions
AskDoc Greater Manchester, a voluntary organisation which aims to engage, educate and empower the local BAME population on health, has produced a series of videos in English, Urdu, Sylheti and Bengali explaining the importance of flu vaccination this winter.
Lancashire County Council’s public health campaign Let’s do it for Lancashire was created to help reinvigorate the national key messages by giving them a truly Lancashire flavour. The Let’s do it for Lancashire strapline is supported by six clear key messages. The key messages are intended to be positive and simple, local and human. “We will use engaging local voices which resonate with local people and which they can identify with.” The council has shared its approach as well as resources created with local partners on its website.
In August, Swindon was added to the Government’s ‘area of concern’ watchlist after some local mini-outbreaks. In response, Swindon Borough Council launched a campaign to press home to residents that controlling COVID-19 rests on the collective and individual responsibility of everybody in the community if the area is to avoid future local lockdown measures. The campaign, ‘Swindon: it’s up to all of us’, was launched across local media and the council’s and local partner’s channels, and also supports targeted community engagement work.
Warwickshire County Council launched the Wear it for Warwickshire campaign, encouraging residents to wear a face covering in public places. It is part of the council’s wider campaign, ‘let’s do the right thing for Warwickshire’, pushing messages out about the responsibility we all have to do the right thing and stop the spread of Covid-19. Jayne Surman, the council’s communications strategy and commissioning manager, spoke at a recent LGA webinar amount their communications response to the pandemic and you can find her presentation on our website.
Newham Council in London has created a network of local COVID-19 health champions to help amplify the council’s messages and engage with the borough’s many communities. The council is seeking to empower thousands of Newham residents to remain up to date on the latest advice about COVID-19. The council will keep health champions informed of the latest advice and guidance so that they can help their family, friends and other community members to make sense of the latest facts about the virus. Translated materials are also available on the council website for health champions.
Broxtowe Borough Council has produced a resource outlining how they engaged and supported residents and employees during the response to COVID-19. A COVID-19 special of the council’s resident newsletter was delivered to every home and business in the Borough, highlighting where support could be accessed, as well as providing community leadership and thanking residents for their support for the council during the pandemic and for following the Government’s stay home advice. During the response phase, the council’s e-newsletter gained more than 1,400 new subscribers versus a monthly average of 167. The council also quickly established a daily briefing for employees as a single point of news and updates.
The Together Greater Manchester campaign has been created to encourage social distancing, address threats to population health and to ensure that key messages are getting through to the public, under the banner of ‘joining together’. The campaign will initially be delivered through a dedicated website, social media, radio, print, out of home and easy-edit templates. The campaign briefing outlines the approach taken, objectives and insight on which it is based.
In the first weeks of COVID-19 response, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets aimed to ensure that as many residents as possible were reached with public health information. Leaflets with COVID-19 advice and support details were delivered to more than 135,000 residents and also featured Bengali and Somali translations. The council utilised out of home digital billboards across the borough to communicate key messages, including a thank you to all key workers. Social distancing banners were rolled out across all key parks, with a specific focus on the hugely popular Victoria Park to align with its re-opening.
Text messages were also sent to more than 2,000 residents through (Gov Notify) who were on the extremely vulnerable/shielding list. Details were provided by government, so the councils could ensure people had details of how to get support.
In June, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets produced a COVID-19 version of its quarterly magazine with partners. The edition includes need-to-know updates for residents such as information on the new NHS Test and Trace services and updated Government guidance. It also provides an update on the community response to the pandemic, detailing how businesses, the council and other key partners have been working through the crisis. The council has also created an accompanying #TowerHamletsTogether video for their social media channels.
The two Safeguarding Children Partnerships in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ran the ‘Their door is shut. Ours is open’ campaign in response to a reduction in child safeguarding referrals at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Police, Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups for the area agreed a joint partnership statement, with Rutland County Council subsequently leading the partnership work on developing the campaign.
The campaign was promoted across the two partnerships and through the Local Resilience Forum. In addition to the partnership statement, press releases, radio adverts, social media assets and posters and leaflets were produced and distribution co-ordinated across the partnership, including with parish councils, to get the message into places where the public would see them. Since the campaign started reports and referrals to local authorities and police regarding safeguarding children have increased.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a comprehensive programme of engagement with residents, businesses and key stakeholders has ensured that clear and concise messages have been delivered in a swift and timely manner.
To ensure all within the borough’s community, especially hard to reach groups such as the elderly, vulnerable and disadvantaged, had access to important key messages from a range of public bodies, as well as positive community-led news, Woking Borough Council took the bold decision to partner with its local paid-for newspaper, the Woking News and Mail. Since 13 April 2020, the partnership has delivered a weekly 16-page newspaper to all households in the borough and parts of the neighbouring borough that mirrors the newspaper’s circulation area by Royal Mail’s door-to-door delivery service. That’s around 48,500 properties.
Whilst maintaining their independence, officers have worked closely with the newspaper’s editorial team to ensure a balance of council and partner news and positive community-led features. Feedback from the community has been positive, with many appreciating the delivery of weekly news and information. To support the borough’s recovery, the partnership has been extended to deliver a weekly 24-page newspaper to all households until the end of June 2020.
Westminster City Council has taken its City Lions programme live as a web event for the first time via Zoom. The sessions will take place every Thursday evening and aims to create a social space for young adults to meet new and old friends, attend workshops with professional creatives and build new skills. The sessions are open to children and young people between the ages of 13 - 16 years old who live or go to school in the City of Westminster.
Birmingham City Council has launched a new podcast, Let’s Be Together. The first episode was released on Apple and Spotify last week, in which Leader Councillor Ian Ward and the council’s Director of Public Health discussed the COVID-19 response across Birmingham.
As part of its community response to COVID-19, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council has teamed up with local radio station Hope FM to provide a regular audio update of the latest BCP Council news. The council’s Community News Updates will be broadcast throughout the week on the radio station and will also be available online.
Rochdale Council is working with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, Darnhill Festival Association and charities Cartwheel Arts and Link4Life on ‘Get Creative Inside!’, an activity pack for families in Rochdale with local arts organisations contributing to the contents of the pack. Rochdale Council Public Health department also produced guidelines so that the packs could be produced and distributed safely in line with current public health guidance.
Luton Council has put together a two-minute video starring members of their public health team demonstrating the current COVID-19 advice. The video contains easy to follow guidance on washing your hands, wearing gloves and how to wear and look after a face covering should you choose to wear one.
Warwickshire Council has been sharing advice with residents, using the hashtag #HelpUsHelpOurCrews, on how they can play their part in keeping council workers and themselves safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guidance on the council’s social media channels tells residents to wash their hands before and after bringing rubbish out and sorting recycling.
Thurrock Council has put together a video for their social media channels which outlines how the newly re-opened tip will operate with special measures to allow for social distancing. The video is a helpful guide for residents, who are being encouraged only to use the tip if absolutely necessary.
Merseytravel, part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, has launched its Rethink Travel campaign. The campaign explains to residents what they need to think about when making essential journeys in the Liverpool City Region. Guidance and tips for residents are being shared across authorities’ social media channels using the hashtag #Rethink Travel.
The newly established Buckinghamshire Council has produced an overview of its response to COVID-19, which includes details on the proactive approach the council has taken to communications in recent weeks. This includes their #ProudofBucks campaign which highlighted the numerous local initiatives and activities being established to support the residents of the county and the work of council staff to galvanise the community spirit across Buckinghamshire. It also outlines the council’s approach to internal communications.
With Foster Care Fortnight starting this week, like many local authorities, Cheshire East Council is still in need of finding new foster carers.
Knowing that during the current crisis, people are clearly staying at home, meaning there is a larger than usual audience, the council felt that this year was an important time to step up its potential reach by increasing the awareness of the need to find new foster carers.
As part of its social media campaign, each day for a fortnight the council will be sharing a quote from one of its existing foster carers with a clear call to action. As part of a wider campaign it is running a two-week radio and online campaign with Signal FM - a local commercial radio station - and has commissioned a film giving thanks to all its current foster carers.
The council recognises that sadly, when the current crisis is over, there is likely to be an additional requirement for foster carers - so it is focusing on a big campaign now to ensure that it is well prepared for that eventuality, should it arise.
Medway Council, working across a variety of teams, has produced a video with messages to thank residents for staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives. The council produced similar messages for their partners and council staff, thanking them for playing their part in the response to COVID-19.
Leeds City Council is funding two months’ worth of deliveries of the Yorkshire Evening Post to their “red list” of the 150 most vulnerable people with their daily food parcels. It’s a win/win situation that allows the council to support two parties – helping the local newspaper when they have furloughed staff or reduced wages for those still working and keeping information flowing to the people least likely to be able to access it another way. Not only can they not get out because they’re shielded, but many are part of the most disadvantaged groups who may not have broadband or devices giving them access to the internet.
As Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) remain closed or begin to think about reopening, Leicestershire County Council has launched a new campaign urging residents to think differently about household waste by asking residents 'can your waste wait?'. The campaign uses the hashtag #CanYourWasteWait and encourages residents to consider activities such as home composting or freezing leftovers as alternatives to using the bin for food waste.
Braintree District Council has launched a heroes campaign, using the hashtag #BraintreeDistrictTogether, to shine a light, celebrate and say thank you to those in the community, whether that’s an individual, community group or local business, doing fantastic acts of kindness for others during this time.
Derbyshire County Council launched the Derbyshire Spirit campaign with a cross-platform, multi-partner engagement approach, supporting local communities in coming together in these challenging times, ensuring crucial public health advice continues to get through to residents, whilst also celebrating the good news and positive activity happening at the council, in partner organisations and communities.
In the first 36 hours 15,000 people viewed the campaign video and 2,500 engaged with it, along with 2,000 people visiting the website. 13 partners from the LRF either created their own content using the campaign toolkit or shared the council’s content in the first 24 hours.
The Behavioural Insights Team has facilitated a webinar about effective communications during COVID-19. The webinar takes you through their research and close working with the Government on the behavioural science response to the pandemic. It also gives some helpful hints and tips when creating communications
South Kesteven District Council has created an infographic to share on social media, that summarises the council’s response to COVID-19 over the last five weeks and highlights some of their successes.
Charnwood Borough Council is encouraging residents to celebrate VE day at home on Friday 8 May. The council has released a special bulletin signposting residents to resources that will help them to celebrate at home including a party pack and bunting. The Government has also produced a number of useful resources to allow people to take part in the celebrations on social media.
Tandridge District Council has created specific website pages to publicise the support available for the most vulnerable with pages for community initiatives and support, grocery and hot meal deliveries and a page for those who may be lonely and need someone to talk to. A bespoke hospital discharge form has been created so people can put everything in place for someone being discharged from the local hospital, which is now being used by a number of local councils.
The summer issue of the council magazine will focus on the work and support available, as well as celebrate the contribution key workers have played in helping the district cope during the crisis. It will be delivered to all households and businesses which means it will also be seen by all those not using online networks.
Working with the Local Resilience Forum, Surrey County Council has set up a support service for bereaved residents and families through their Community Helpline and Cruse, the bereavement support charity. The council has been working closely with Faith and Community Leaders in the county, who along with Council Leader Tim Oliver, have helped with statements of support for residents dealing with bereavement at this difficult time.
We all know the importance of social distancing, but what does this mean for tenants living in close proximity in blocks of flats? This was the challenge facing Southampton City Council’s Housing Service when communicating with tenants in its high-rise residential blocks. The team designed a suite of posters, each carrying a simple (but tailored) message, to be displayed in communal areas, plus a rolling animated graphic on social media and for the digital screens in lift lobbies. Messages include general hygiene advice, disposing of waste responsibly and a reminder to respect a “one out, one in” rule when using the lifts.
As part of its communications work to remind residents to follow the Government’s advice by staying at home and only going out for essential trips, Kent and Medway Council has produced this great video as part of the #KentTogether campaign.
Working with partners, it includes council workers, a police officer, a nurse, a doctor and a community warden, as well as many others who are keeping vital services running. It also reminds residents that a 24-hour helpline has been set up to support vulnerable people who need urgent help, supplies or medication.
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has produced a 90 second video, as part of a wider campaign, directing residents to where to go if they need help. The video also serves as an opportunity to thank the community and let them know what the council is doing locally in response to COVID-19. The video has reached 30,000 views and has gone down well with staff, giving a timely morale boost to all those involved and their colleagues.
Richmond Council has been working on a project to support children during isolation. The communications team worked with local astronaut, Helen Sharman, who was Britain’s first astronaut in space. Young people submitted their video questions and she answered them. Schools are now doing a space workshop with children and using the council’s video as part of that. The council is also holding a craft competition for children to build a rocket.
Milton Keynes Council has reached more than 700,000 people with COVID-19 advice and information through its social channels and email alerts. The communications team created a distinct yellow-alert brand for its COVID-19 updates to cut through local noise.
Thirteen local supermarkets are now displaying ‘stay up to date’ banners promoting the council’s channels. As a result, the council has seen a sharp rise new followers and subscribers, and around double the usual levels of engagement in posts.
East Lindsay District Council has partnered with Magna Vitae, a local leisure and culture trust, to produce a support leaflet and dedicated website for residents as part of its response to COVID-19. The website contains information about looking after yourself and others during this time. It hosts a wide range of information and support on issues that may be affecting residents including financial advice and support on council tax, information on supply access and help for clinically vulnerable people.
In order to help pass the time during lockdown the platform also provides a number of exciting, innovative, interactive links to entertainment and exercise, incorporating quizzes, word searches, crosswords, national curriculum learning, live streaming from around the world and how to keep active at home with a wide range of exercise videos. A leaflet has been produced alongside the website to ensure that residents who don’t use or have access to the internet can still get this key information.
Surrey County Council has produced a ‘School Superheroes’ pack to encourage students to keep up with their school works, and, as a resource that parents can use at home with their children. The pack is a PDF colouring book and sticker collection that can be printed out and used at home. Children are encouraged to share their creations on social media using the hashtag #surreyschoolssuperheroes.
Staying at home isn’t as easy for everyone, in particular victims and potential victims of domestic abuse. That’s why partner agencies across Devon and Cornwall are launching a campaign to raise awareness around domestic abuse, warning that it may increase in the coming weeks due to the impact of Covid-19. The campaign will work to reassure victims that support is still available to them.
City of Lincoln Council is mobilising its staff who now find themselves working at home to support elderly residents who are at risk of becoming isolated, through their new telephone befriending scheme. The council identified early on the need for a service to help protect the well-being of the elderly and residents who live alone. In just a short space of time more than 1,100 residents were matched with 22 council staff who began to contact them to explain the scheme and register interest. So far, around one third of these residents have used the service.
Manchester City Council’s communications team has created innovative social distancing banners for GP surgeries to support social distancing and help residents understand what two metres apart looks like in reality.
Stoke on Trent City Council has launched a new Covid-19 support network, alongside local voluntary sector organisations to keep residents protected and informed. The council is using its website to coordinate its volunteer recruitment programme and to encourage vulnerable people to sign up for support. In the week since its launch, 129 organisations have signed up alongside over 500 volunteers.
We’ve heard from many of you that not having Government guidance available in some languages has made your job of ensuring that residents follow it, more difficult. To counter this, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council have worked with local community leaders (and staff) who are native speakers in all their community languages to film themselves giving the stay at home, wash your hands and stay two metres apart messages.
They have kindly shared their script, which has been approved by their Public Health team. You can download the guidance videos from their websites should you want to use them for your own communications. The video isn’t branded and includes only the name of the speaker and a flag to denote their nationality. Keep an eye out for the videos on the councils’ social media pages.
Watford Borough Council has made sure it is being proactive with its resident communications and engagement around COVID-19. As we entered the second week of the Government’s social distancing measures, and guidance had become clearer, the council launched its Tackling it together in Watford leaflet. The leaflet outlines details of the local response to the Coronavirus pandemic; how to get help; and changes to the services the council provides. Leaflets will be delivered to every household in the district, as well as available online and promoted on social media, ensuring that every resident will have access to this vital information.
Watford Council is also hosting a live Facebook Q&A with Mayor Peter Taylor.
The London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI) has published some guidance on how to hold online committee meetings that are accessible to the public. This useful guide gives you step by step instructions, as well as a variety of options to consider depending on what technology is available to you. It breaks down some of the software that councils should consider using including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout.
Waltham Forest Council has been delivering regular COVID-19 updates to residents, from Council Leader Claire Coghill, outlining the latest national policy developments and the local response to them. The e-newsletters always contain hyperlinks to important website pages and Government advice as well as signposting for both vulnerable residents and potential community volunteers. They’ve utilised popular social media graphics as an effective way to explain often complicated concepts such as social distancing.
Westminster City Council has used its e-newsletters to mobilise residents to take direct action and help minimise the spread of COVID-19. The council has been consistently sharing Public Health England’s advice on the steps residents should take to look after themselves and others, whilst also inviting residents who want to help out locally to sign up to volunteer. Messaging emphasises collective responsibility – whether it’s residents, businesses and the council pulling together, or working with central government - so that we can all make a difference.
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.