The imposition of lockdown meant that we have had to adapt to working in different ways by turning to technology, using online video and engagement tools.
Communicating key messages to residents quickly has been vital and, although not all have computer access, we are able to reach a large proportion of our population through e-communication. At the start of lockdown, we rapidly expanded the reach of our weekly econnect newsletter to more than 50,000 residents by combining the email databases held by various services, and sharing the newsletter via the Nextdoor website.
To maintain a two-way conversation, our council Leader established regular webinars on key topics, streamed live on our YouTube channel. The webinars give residents direct access to local decision makers without the need to travel, and 100 people can take part in each discussion. Panellists appear on screen as in a regular Zoom call, and have the option to illustrate points via slides. Webinar attendees can use the chat and Q&A features at any time, and may also be invited to temporarily join the panel to speak during the webinar. As they are interactive the webinars are very flexible, which means issues can be explored as they arise in the discussion.
We’ve now held more than two dozen webinars which have proved very popular. For example, the Reopening Our High Streets Safely webinar has now been viewed more than 700 times. Webinars have also been held on the key issues for young people from COVID-19 and lockdown to the green recovery. We have also used webinars to explore the legacy of slavery in our area, as well as to engage with residents on our local response to the impact of COVID-19, the impact on our finances and our budget for the coming year.
We now have a dedicated page on our website outlining forthcoming webinars and detailing how people can sign up.
Following a change in regulations to permit virtual meetings, we selected Zoom as our platform with public meetings streamed on our YouTube channel. Members of the public can engage with the meetings online by making a statement or asking a question, and are given specific instructions on how to do so in the virtual setting.
We have now held almost 100 virtual meetings. Being able to virtually attend a meeting from home has proved to be a hit with residents, with viewing figures growing steadily. More than 1400 people have now viewed out December Planning meeting and our February cabinet meeting has so far been viewed more than 700 times.
Community meetings, such as the Interagency Forum, are also taking place via Zoom, and we are also conducting school appeals virtually.
Being able to virtually attend a meeting from home has proved to be a hit with residents. Viewing figures are growing steadily. The May Cabinet meeting has been viewed more than 200 times, and our last planning meeting has been watched almost 300 times.
By communicating virtually, residents can engage with us quickly and easily. We will look to develop this method of interaction further, whilst ensuring the views of those without access to internet facilities continue to be heard through more traditional methods of communication.