Many individuals and groups will need to play their parts in communicating effectively with stakeholders, of whom the most important for the purposes of controlling COVID-19 are the residents of B&NES themselves.
A key role in this process will be the B&NES Outbreak Engagement Board chaired by the Leader of the Council. This board has now been established, based on a group already set up by the Leader to engage with a group of representatives of local bodies including the Council, police, fire and rescue service, our two universities, CURO and different parts of the health and care system.
Engaging the public in an effective way will be vital to our collective wellbeing in the next months and even years, but will be no simple task for at least three reasons. One is the great variability in people’s personal situations, understanding of, and attitudes towards the outbreak and its control. The second is that the rules and principles that must be applied in the future are going to be much more complex than the simple, if onerous, rules of lockdown, and will be subject to local change as the outbreak ebbs and flows and restrictions may need to change to keep the population safe. And the third is that this pandemic may last for a long while yet and while people will, to some extent, get used to incorporating careful habits into their daily lives, they will also naturally get weary of having to do so.
This task has begun but will need to be reinforced and refined as the pandemic continues and as messages become both more complex, and more localised. Particular challenges will occur whenever rules change and particularly if new restrictions need to be put in place. Even in this early stage of the easing of lockdown there is a lot of criticism of a lack of clarity of national messaging.
The Council needs to work through all its channels of communication. These include media and social media, information put on its and partners’ websites and through broadcasting of Council meetings, special activities such as webinars (like that one put on with the BID on the opening up of B&NES town centres) and ad hoc leafleting campaigns such as have been undertaken by the 3SG group.
In addition, all existing representative groups in B&NES have a role to play, and some important ones like area forums and parish councils have expressed their desire to be useful agents in this effort, and will be most valuable because of the focused and deep local knowledge and networks they represent.
There is also a role for all ward councillors who are trusted figures in their communities. Much may depend on the degree to which they can both explain and re-enforce the need to take care over social distancing and the application of necessary rules while also being a channel through which residents can express their concerns and seek clarification.
The Council has a small core communications team, which has been working extremely hard, and one question in the future will be whether there is any need for reinforcement, either from within the Council or from outside.
The themes in this part of the LOMP will need to be worked out in more detail in the as the pandemic continues, because of the scale of the challenge, but much has already been achieved and there is a strong foundation on which to build.
Update: Communications, engagement and community resilience
Steps we have taken
Delivering weekly newsletters to over 50,000 local email addresses and working with local community radio to gain a wider reach
Working with local community groups to provide engaging materials to emphasise and support COVID-19 messaging
Providing targeted support for local messages, including social media
Continuing to support communications on vaccine communications, working closely with the CCG, and on mass testing
Ensuring messages are clear as the “roadmap” is progressed
Working with local organisations to support young people as lockdown ends
Building capacity to manage potential surge (lateral flow) testing