A community full of spirit

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Veronica Swindale, MD of nesma, catches up with Kate Clark, from the Communications Team at Northumberland County Council to talk about some of the work Kate has been doing recently for Northern Insight Magazine.

Thanks so much for chatting to us this month.  Could you just give an outline of your role at Northumberland County Council? 

I sit within the corporate communications team, my role is marketing and campaigns manager. I work with a variety of teams at the council, including the Learning and Skills team creating campaigns for post 16 education along with the recruitment and promotion of Apprenticeships. 

For the last twelve months, I’ve been working with the Head of Communications on a new digital platform and rebrand for Northumberland Tourism. It’s been a collaborative project working with tourism development, IT, digital and an external creative agency.

Northumberland’s tourism industry is a significant economic driver in our region, the rebrand and immersive website will be one way to support our local businesses at this time. The other piece of work that keeps me busy is Discover our Land, a campaign created to capture people’s stories across our county and to celebrate regional pride. We want everyone to know that Northumberland is a great place to live, visit, work and invest in. 

Clearly, things have been pretty hectic over recent months, what have been the most significant challenges do you think? 

When the lockdown was announced, a new team was established to support our communities. Northumberland Communities Together (NCT) initially helped our most vulnerable residents, ensuring access to food and medication. From a marcomms perspective, our biggest challenge was communicating at pace with the voluntary groups, partners, charities, and individual volunteers across the county who were all working together to keep our communities safe and well.

Within a few weeks, we’d created a brand, webpage, social media accounts, and an electronic information pack which covered everything from public health messages to safeguarding tutorials, to highlighting best practice and celebrating local heroes to keep morale high. Within 3 weeks, we had over 1,100 people volunteer: the response was astounding.

We’ve also had to adapt our day to day working methods: the familiar face to face interviews, videography, photoshoots, and creative briefings, brainstorms and workshops no longer apply.  Teams, Zoom and Google Meets, have taken their place and a more collaborative approach with our community partners to create original content.

We need to build on residents’ awareness of the NCT team. The volunteer response hub answer calls 7 days a week, they are there to support residents with whatever challenges they are going through, connecting them to people in their local community. 

In what ways have you had to innovate to be able to do things differently for the community? 

There has been a real ‘can do’ approach right from the start, many colleagues from different areas of the Council, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, local partners and voluntary groups had to collaborate quickly to respond to the needs of residents. We have worked closely with the data and IT team to build a picture of what was happening in our communities, mapping volunteers, voluntary groups and support networks – allowing us to react promptly and effectively across a large geographical area. 

In addition to the phone line, face to face socially distanced visits to our shielded residents formed part of the strategy. Those residents who had not responded to letters, phone calls or had not contacted us were mapped. That data was streamed to iPads that our on the ground teams used to reach out to residents. What was encouraging was so many people had strong support networks in place with neighbours, friends or family. Those that didn’t could be connected to the right type of support needed. This data continues to inform a picture of the wellbeing of our communities across the county.

The NCT Team worked with NHS Health Trainers, libraries, NCC services and local businesses to engage with residents, providing socially distanced activity, PPE packs and ideas on keeping active, safe and well. Over 150 pop-up events were created with over 3,000 residents engaging, and we are committed to continuing this work through the winter. 

What work is there still to do? 

Initially, there was a focus on making sure that residents had access to essentials during the lockdown. We are seeing an increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and tighter local restrictions. Our residents need more support around testing, self-isolation, and reassurance.  There are several areas of concern; a rise in domestic violence, criminal activity, food and fuel poverty and mental health issues.  

From a marcomms perspective, we’ll continue with our current approach, and I am interested in adopting a micro-targeted approach as we work more closely with partners on the ground in each community.

Although this crisis is horrible, we’ve seen amazing people across our region working to help our most vulnerable residents. It’s been humbling to see how everyone has rallied together. We must all continue to be kind and support each other.

Kate is also studying for her Masters level CIM Marketing Leadership Programme with nesma, a qualification aimed at senior marketers with at least five years senior management experience.  The programme focuses on applying strategic thinking to facilitate and implement change at the highest level.