Our geography here in the East Riding of Yorkshire is largely rural, and it’s the natural beauty of our scenery which leads many to retire here. While much of our surrounding is quiet, serene and community based, as a council, we are fully aware of the need for us to make sure all of our services are accessible and that residents feel connected and supported.
Like every council across the UK, we were tested on our communications and local support infrastructure as the pandemic emerged and we entered a lockdown. Of course, many of our usual services and resources were compromised or unavailable.
Bearing in mind that many of our residents live in remote areas and are perhaps older or more vulnerable, we were especially mindful when the country first locked down that we needed to quickly put new processes in place, so that we could reach out to people and help them with any urgent needs; whether that be collecting medication or food, mental health requests or simply offering an ear to someone who felt lonely and isolated.
More than ever, there was a desire to not let those who were vulnerable fall into crisis.
The urgency to deliver an accessible system for our residents led us to Granicus’ govService, a citizen engagement platform which allows our internal communications to be transformed into simple, intelligent online forms to help residents with support and urgent services.
The forms can be personalised, meaning we could shape everything around our residents, and the automation ensures that everything from status updates to approvals was up to date – all members of the community response team could easily track and manage resident needs.
To keep these forms in order, we created a community hub through the platform for the community response team, where they could go to quickly access a form or service if requested by a resident. This hub helped ensure that our workflow was smooth and timely, enabling us to deliver the help needed as quickly as possible.
Through a combination of our in-house skillset and the correct solution to aid the team, this hub was launched within two days. The tools and data available made sure that the launch went smoothly.
Understanding the needs of our demographic, we made sure that the primary form of communication and access to the hub and Covid support was through a telephone line. With a triage process at the front end, we had a dedicated call team who spoke one-on-one with individuals, meaning they could be centrally involved in working towards what residents truly needed. We could then direct the resident to the correct dashboard, which included the likes of foodbanks, supplies hubs, a social prescribing team, which helped with medicine and mental health requests, Fire and Rescue, and a befriending service which brought company to some of those hit hardest by the isolation of lockdown.
We wanted to make our community hub as accessible to our entire community, by making the service a simple-to-use one-stop shop, which required one phone call from the customer to the council, rather than having to pick through loads of information on the website or ring around different departments. We also found that carers and relatives of individuals would call us up as well, allowing us to share multiple strands of support with them based on their needs.
One thing we quickly realised was that some of our most vulnerable residents needed a variety of help that would go beyond our own expertise. We used our new community hub as a shared digital workspace, so as a council we were able to communicate externally with other key organisations in the area, such as the police and charities. This included Hey Smile, a local health and wellbeing charity.
Our approach was interactive, which helped us get the whole picture of how to help an individual, no matter their circumstance. Additional safety checks were also put in place to ensure no individual slipped through the net, with a view to preventing isolation.
This thorough set-up was due largely in part to the sophisticated system we had created using our citizen engagement platform and our own expertise.
The Community Response Hub, as its own separate entity, closed on 30 June 2021, having taken 13,333 calls and generating 7,987 tasks for some of our most vulnerable individuals.
While we are no longer in a full lockdown, as an authority we have learned a lot from setting up our Community Response Hub, and how to work with other services and organisations across the community, to deliver support and help to the elderly and vulnerable. We had quickly established a highly effective system with which we can easily communicate with those who would potentially otherwise remain lonely and without aid.
Business is now back to usual, but our hub has remained a prevalent part of what we do for the most vulnerable in our community, as we have integrated it into our customer service network.
If we felt we needed to extend the use of the hub again for any future lockdowns or other reasons, our council could quickly and easily re-launch it. The great thing is, we now have everything in place to continue supporting our residents when they need us.