Seizing the opportunity to change perceptions
Councils have been vital in the UKs COVID-19 response, from supporting vulnerable residents and sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) to issuing business grants and managing food banks. However, prior to COVID-19 it was often the more negative stories that got the limelight – and this has a huge impact historically on public attitudes towards local councils.
West Midlands Employers’ (WME) 33 council members across the West Midlands have backed a campaign to shine a light on the role council workers are playing to protect their communities and support the care sector during the pandemic. Our campaign highlights heroes working for councils across the region and is built around telling the stories of individuals who are doing amazing things to support their community – illustrating that no matter your age, occupation, gender or background, you can make a difference to people’s lives.
While local government plays an important part in our lives, the reality is most people are unaware of the breadth of jobs undertaken unless they have had the need to use a particular service. Local government as a sector does not have a strong employer brand. There are the visible council services like picking up the waste and recycling, running schools and providing roads and street lighting but what about the hundreds of other roles that are often hidden?
Our aim is to evoke emotion by sharing stories about our heroes and encouraging the media to share the positive work they are doing. We are also in the process of sharing video content via our social media channels and www.wmheroes.co.uk with films from each of our heroes, an animated film showcasing the breadth of job roles in the sector and a film focusing on the work being that has been done across councils in the West Midlands during 100 days of lockdown. These films create a very real and emotional connection with people and it is this that is key in helping change perceptions about working in local government.
We have captured some amazing stories of how our councils have delivered ambitious changes in just days rather than years; rehoming the homeless in 48 hours (Birmingham City Council and Worcester City Council), reopening town centres with new regulations (Warwickshire CC), setting up a ‘mini Amazon’ in just three days to bulk buy PPE (also Warwickshire), getting a massive food hub off the ground (City of Wolverhampton Council), taking people out of hospital quickly to support the NHS (Stoke-on-Trent City Council) and delivering school directly into homes in deprived communities (Sandwell MBC).
We also have covered stories of workers teaching disadvantaged young people bike skills – in virtual workshops during the lockdown (Warwickshire), helping people to remain active throughout lockdown (Wolverhampton), helping smaller shops and grocers implement social distancing (Walsall Council), getting Kindles in to care homes and hospitals to help reduce isolation (Telford and Wrekin Council) and helping vulnerable and older people remain in their homes by fitting lifeline community alarm services (Bromsgrove DC).
All of our heroes have had to think on their feet and deliver services very differently. Things that pre-pandemic may have taken quite a while to get approved and up and running, have been developed and implemented at real pace. Showing just how innovative and responsive the sector can really be.
Fiona Narburgh, WME associate consultant, has been working on the ‘Everyday Heroes Making Everyday Better’ campaign. Reflecting on the conversations she has had with our heroes she says: ‘There is a huge sense of togetherness and team work among our heroes and it is so much more than a job for them. These are people who are really passionate and proud about what they do. It’s far more of a “calling” than a means to make a living. They are all highly engaged and motivated.
‘The pandemic has been an extremely challenging time, but they have been energised by that – and got on with what they need to do. They know the difference they are making to people throughout this crisis and how needed they are at this time. They all talked about getting closer to their communities – despite the social distancing!’
Our long-term objective is to create a strong employer brand for local government in the West Midlands. Helping people understand the breadth of roles on offer across councils is also key to our objectives to attract people who want to do a job that makes a difference to people’s lives – one with a strong sense of purpose and meaning.
The stories of our #EverydayHeroes demonstrate how councils in the West Midlands have really stepped up and responded positively for people throughout the pandemic. We want to inspire other people to consider working for our councils and think of council workers to be up there with our emergency services.
People are seeing them do an extraordinary job – showing creativity, collaboration, resilience, dedication and passion throughout. These stories should absolutely inspire the next generation to want to work in our councils. They are a generation who want to make a difference, and what we do really matters.
As councils continue to recruit we need to showcase what they can offer in terms of a career, as many people re-evaluate what they are doing. In fact one of the things that emerged as a workforce priority for the region during consultation for our strategic plan was the need to invest in a careers site to showcase the West Midlands as a great place to live and work and to demonstrate the variety of roles in local government.
We have a window of opportunity to show the fantastic work that is happening across local government at the moment and use this to change perceptions for the better. So now feels like the perfect time to build on the #EverydayHeroes campaign to enhance our reach and create a clear brand for local government as a career choice in the West Midlands – Everyday Heroes Making Everyday Better.
Rebecca Davis is chief executive of West Midlands Employers