How to explain to your residents the level of local support provided by their council during the COVID Pandemic? The hard word, the commitment, the dedication, the late nights, the early mornings, the weekends. That the council you may only need to empty your bin or to grant planning permission on your home extension, stepped up and delivered for the community at a time of national crisis.

by Catherine Molloy

This will be the dilemma facing many public sector communications teams as we approach Annual Report time of the year.

For the 2020/21 Annual Report in Elmbridge we tried a different approach…different for us.

Numbers have been very significant during the Pandemic – number of people testing positive, number of who have sadly died with 28days of a positive test, number of people receiving their first dose of the vaccine, second dose, booster. In Elmbridge, our data focused on the number of meals on wheels served to vulnerable residents, the number of rough sleepers moved into settled accommodation, the number of welfare calls, the number and monetary value of the business grants issued locally.

I can tell you that during the COVID pandemic, Elmbridge Borough Council delivered over 100,000 meals to vulnerable residents, that we made approximately 50,000 calls to isolated residents and that we provided £24.6M in grants to help keep our local retailers in business; all to support our residents and businesses at a time of tremendous uncertainty and worry. However, the figures just don’t bring to life the magnitude of the work undertaken by our employees during 2020/2021 in response to the COVID pandemic.

Confession time – my head doesn’t respond to numbers. Show me a busy spread sheet and my head runs in terror. I am all about words and stories…empathy and feeling.

Throughout the early months of the Pandemic and our emergency response, what I remember most of all is hearing stories from front line colleagues about the enhanced isolation and loneliness COVID was bringing the community. How our dementia services team was having to replace support and respite sessions with ‘check-in’ calls and that while this helped, carers felt increasingly isolated and exhausted. How vulnerable, older people with no family around, were relying on our team to bring their prescriptions and shopping, but all the while having little if any human interaction from day-to-day. These stuck with me and I wanted to tell these stories.

I wanted to tell them about Andy sitting on bench talking to ‘Arthur’ who hadn’t spoken to anyone else for ten days, about Trudy who every day communicated through the window to ‘Claire’ as she didn’t have any family to help her, about Rebecca providing her adult group with learning disabilities or autism with iPads to allow that essential digital connection when they couldn’t meet in person. These are the stories of Elmbridge Borough Council’s Pandemic response and they deserve to be told.

Of course, in the true nature of public service, my colleagues were reluctant to have the spotlight turned on them, but that’s where I come in as their communications person. To listen and to tell their story, to show how their empathy and kindness touched lives and truly helped people.

In total the Elmbridge Borough Council Annual Report 2020/2021 has 13 stories of colleagues enhancing the lives of our residents and we could have told many more. The idea of story telling in communications is not a new one, but I believe it is more important in our ‘post-pandemic’ time. How organisations treat people is more important than ever. How they treated their residents and customers during the most worrying public health crisis in a generation, will be remembered.

Our Chief Executive, Robert Moran, is very fond of the below Maya Angelou quote, which I believe is the ethos underpinning the Elmbridge Borough Council 2020/2021 Annual Report.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The Elmbridge Borough Council 2020/2021 Annual Report

Catherine Malloy is Communications Manager at Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey.

Original source – comms2point0

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