“Your Call”: Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

“Your Call” is a partnership with residents which empowers both individuals and groups to volunteer and support the council to deliver vital services.

Efficiency and income generation

Beginning in 2011 the “Your Call” movement has gathered pace year on year. The council works alongside residents, equipping them with the skills and resources they need to help themselves.

They are supported to organise regular litter picks, local road safety or health events. The council provides the equipment they need to pick litter, grit pavements, clean up war graves and support the general maintenance of parks and cemeteries. They have mobilised to tackle loneliness in their communities and to run valuable community assets like libraries and community centres.

The challenge

In the last 10 years Blackburn with Darwen has faced £140 million of cuts across all areas of council business. Rising demand and stretched finances mean that service levels across the council have either been much reduced or stopped altogether.

The solution

A relationship between residents and the council working together in partnership to resolve issues and deliver services. This ethos is at the heart of the council’s “Your Call” campaign and marks an attitudinal shift of delivery to residents to delivery with them.

In 2017-18 over 6,000 residents answered “The Call” clocking up 20,000+ volunteer hours, working alongside the council and its partners to improve their communities for the better. Elected members and senior council officers have led and driven activity from the start, wholly embracing the change in ethos.

The council is supported by a county wide resource, the Lancashire Volunteer Partnership, which provides an infrastructure to recruit, promote and manage volunteers. In addition, the borough has seen a community led social media movement of residents mobilising through Facebook sites to encourage litter picking in their communities.

The impact

The impact has mitigated the effects of cuts by keeping vital services running: seven community centres and all branch libraries are now run by volunteers. Other leisure facilities and bowling greens have also been transferred to community organisations. Regular volunteer litter picks take place in many areas of the borough keeping our neighbourhoods clean and tidy.

How is the new approach being sustained?

A council team of community connectors works closely with residents and the voluntary sector to recruit and support new volunteers. A drive to recruit “befriender” volunteers to support the Prevention agenda in social care is gathering pace. Ongoing support is provided to volunteers by way of equipment and supplies – red bags for litter, litter picks, grit etc. Support is given to volunteers running buildings to build their capacity, help them to recruit more volunteers and apply for funding. New community groups are encouraged to formally develop, become constituted and flourish.

This approach to prevention has buy-in from across our public and voluntary sector partnerships. Our emerging integrated health and social care work is rooted in a strength-based, community development approach where community assets, both places and people, deliver a wide range of sustainable health outcomes.

Lessons learned

Volunteering isn’t free. Volunteers need support and nurturing. They need capacity building and help to acquire valuable skills and experience. They need to be thanked and celebrated. Buy in from elected members and senior leaders is crucial, to lead the campaign and encourage the mobilisation of volunteers at local ward level. Keeping up the pace and fostering an ongoing belief in the power of residents to care and to want to make a positive difference in their communities.

Contact: Heather Taylor heather.taylor@blackburn.gov.uk