Good Council Practice - Engagement

During the COVID-19 pandemic Bridgend County Borough Council worked alongside Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations (BAVO) to expand the Community Companions befriending scheme recognising, the need to adapt approaches in relation to the pandemic and restrictions. BAVO and the Council wanted to provide support to individuals in different ways including telephone befriending to support social distancing particularly targeting older more isolated adults over the winter period. During 2020 there were 229 referrals received for befriending support. A total of 145 individuals were supported with befriending opportunities, with 102 volunteers involved in telephone befriending and 50 individuals involved in the pilot of the intergenerational pen pal scheme. This scheme has continued to grow despite the disruptions of schools closing and BAVO have made links with a local primary school during lockdown to write letters/drawings which were developed into postcards to send out to Community Companions beneficiaries and volunteers.

Monmouthshire County Council and third sector organisations worked together during the initial lockdown in March 2020 to build a support structure for community groups. The support structure involved training and screening volunteers for safeguarding, sharing information, building neighbourhood networks and providing a single point of contact in the council who could assist the groups with any challenges they were facing. Asset-based principles and belief and trust in communities were the foundations of the council’s strategy to manage lockdown. The strength of the council’s relationships with the existing community groups and new mutual aid groups meant that the council was able to benefit from the support of the communities in much more than shopping and collecting prescriptions. This type of approach led by the community and driven by personal relationships has inspired the creation of the county’s new Town Ambassador Programme. Organised by town councils, with support from the county council and GAVO, the programme sees local volunteers meet with those who feel uncertain about leaving their homes and walk with them around the town centre. The volunteers are given training so they can advise about the COVID-19 measures in place around the town centre and shops, chat about general wellbeing and signpost to local services.

 

Further details are captured in New Local study (Jan 2021): Shifting the Balance: Local adaptation, innovation and collaboration during the pandemic and beyond 

Within the first two weeks at the start of lockdown in March 2020, over 600 people had registered to volunteer with Mantell Gwynedd’s Volunteer Bank. Gwynedd Council and third sector bodies held formal weekly online meetings and worked together in a more joined-up manner to serve the needs of communities by identifying gaps, sharing resources and stepping up to the demand. Although the nature of volunteering has changed since the initial lockdown with many people returning to work or education, the volunteering spirit has remained. Many of the people who originally registered to volunteer with Mantell Gwynedd at the beginning of the initial lockdown reached out to volunteer again during the Autumn Firebreak.

 

Further details are captured in New Local study (Jan 2021): Shifting the Balance: Local adaptation, innovation and collaboration during the pandemic and beyond

Conwy County Borough Council established the Community Support Service(CSS) helpline in March 2020, the purpose of which was to provide assistance to anyone within the community who wasn’t able to call on friends, family or neighbours to ask for help with picking up shopping, delivering medication etc. Assistance was initially provided through volunteer matching and we then moved on to using temporarily redeployed staff from other services within the council. Volunteers were encouraged to register with Community & Voluntary Support Conwy(CVSC) to be matched with local organisations. Conwy CBC have an agreement with a number of local shops and both Tesco stores in the county to take payment over the phone from individuals using the CSS for shopping requests. When the Conwy Staff are at the till, the shop ring the customer who then pay for their shopping over the phone. There is also a process in place to assist if individuals have no means to pay by card over the phone. The CSS service has been scaled back in line with easing lockdown rules and the number of requests we receive reduce. All surgeries and pharmacies have been informed and have been encouraged to register with the RedCross if they need assistance with prescription deliveries.

During the third week of March Caerphilly CBC wrote to all 70,000 plus households in the county borough offering support for people concerned about the UK Government advice to self-isolate if over 70, or with an underlying health condition, if they felt they would be unable to cope with daily shopping or picking up prescriptions. 1560 older and vulnerable adults rang the dedicated helpline asking for support. At the same time a call to action was issued to staff able to help as volunteers to provide an immediate response. Over 590 staff eventually ended up acting as Buddies being matched with up to 10 older and vulnerable adults/families each. As accessing cash was a difficulty, and no WCVA cash handling guidance existed at that time, corporate credit cards and petty cash access was set up at short notice to prevent allegations of financial abuse and fraud. Residents were invoiced at a later date for shopping bought on their behalf. At the same time the Council provided enhanced DBS checked drivers to local pharmacies to help with deliveries of medication as normal driver services were not operational. As the lockdown eased and shielding ended many staff have continued to maintain a befriending role with the people they have been supporting. The scheme is now working with the voluntary sector and local community groups to support the lesser number of people still requiring support through the Community Regeneration Team working with the local CVC. A jointly appointed Volunteer Coordinator is helping to manage the Buddy Scheme with a view to developing a more formal corporate volunteering scheme as a legacy. The Community Regeneration Team are working closely with local community COVID volunteer groups particularly in helping isolated people registered on the Buddy Scheme become more connected to their communities.

Bridgend County Borough Council’s website has been a key source of information for residents during the pandemic, with daily updates on Covid-19 support.

To reach residents without access to digital platforms, the council distributed leaflets to all households in the borough highlighting support from the council during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This included making people aware that support is available in a variety of different languages - for example, the ‘support for people in the pandemic’ page of the council website features links to multilingual Welsh Government resources.

The council issued 90 specific Covid-19 lockdown news updates to key audiences, at a rate of one a day between March and July, and have developed this into an ongoing bi-weekly media update to keep key audiences informed about latest developments during the pandemic.

The council works closely with umbrella organisations, e.g. the Bridgend Community Cohesion and Equality Forum and the Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations, to distribute information to specific groups.

They work alongside partners such as Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board, South Wales Police, town and community councils etc. to disseminate information, and support these partners by using their council communication channels to share information that they have produced.

During the lockdown period, Denbighshire County Council set up the ‘proactive calling project’. In addition to calling all of the shielding residents in the county, they called all non-shielding vulnerable people over the age of 70. Scripts were produced and followed to ensure all residents were offered all support available, including a referral to the Denbighshire Voluntary Services Council (which links volunteers with those who need a bit of extra help) or support from the council’s befriending service.

The befriending service was set up to help those who feel isolated and want someone to chat too. Volunteers, including councillors, have a chat with residents to help their well-being during this uncertain and for some, lonely, time.

The be-friending service is continuing after much success during the lockdown.

The Denbighshire Voluntary Services Council are also continuing their support, linking volunteers with those who need a bit of extra help e.g. shopping and collecting prescriptions.

The Denbighshire County Council Community Resource Pack, put together to help residents with support during the lockdown period, continues to be updated and available on the website. 

Since 23 March 2020, 21,595 welfare calls have been made by Wrexham County Borough Council Housing Officers to their council tenants.

All Council tenants have been contacted at least once and officers are continuing with a second round of welfare calls, although this is now being impacted by the re-commencement of other housing functions and many tenants returning to work.  Tenants who couldn’t be reached by telephone have received a letter asking them to make contact with their Housing Office.

During the pandemic the support offered by the council’s Housing Officers has included financial advice and assistance, assistance with submitting Universal Credit claims and Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), arranging affordable rent payment plans with tenants who were furloughed, and referrals to the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham for food parcels, prescription delivery and shopping. 

Officers also promoted services that may be beneficial for isolating tenants and made referrals to agencies offering support and advice on loneliness, domestic violence, mental health, and anti-social behaviour. Officers were also advising on the free school meals provision and raising awareness of scams to help keep vulnerable tenants safe.  For some tenants, the calls just meant a friendly person for them to speak to as they were feeling isolated.  The calls were very well received and appreciated by tenants.

In Bridgend, considerable effort has been made to ensure carers have the support they need during the pandemic.

The Council’s existing Carers Wellbeing Service provided a 24 hour helpline to support carers during Lockdown. The service received a high level of calls and proved to be of high value to carers during the challenging period.

The council’s carer services have developed/introduced a range of ways to communicate with carers during the pandemic, including posters and information, direct telephone calls to check on the wellbeing of carers, regular emails, using video technology such as zoom and using social media.In addition, services such as counselling sessions and advice have been provided over the telephone to support carers.

Arrangements have been made for carers in Bridgend county borough to be provided PPE in line with the national guidance.

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council’s service for young carers has needed to adapt to a new way of working during the pandemic, to meet young carers needs and support their safety.

Assessments are now undertaken via digital means or via socially distanced garden sessions.

Group sessions, such as the young carers choir, are now undertaken via zoom. There has also been a move to digital and outdoor one to one sessions.

The council makes contact with all young carers weekly, during which emotional and practical support is explored. Practical support includes help with tasks such as shopping, an activity which may previously have been supported by an extended family member. Supporting young carers to engage in educational sessions and access digital learning has been an area of support the young carers service has worked with education colleagues to achieve.

The council has also frequently provided young carers with activity and resource packs.

The high level of contact maintained with young carers during the pandemic has allowed the council to adjust to their support needs, whilst working in a manner that adheres to government guidance.

 

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