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Coronavirus (COVID-19): GCS Local and local interventions

Blog posted by: Helen Clarke, Senior Campaigns and Stakeholder Manager, GCS Local, 28 September 2020.

Like everybody else, for those of us working in Government Communications the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic quickly changed our lives, both personally and professionally.

We took part in our community clap for carers, we queued in the supermarket and we stayed in.

But our work never stopped. While for some of us our workplace environment shifted from the office to the home, the crisis facing the country meant, inevitably, that the scale and pace of the demands on us increased significantly.

Headshot of woman smiling

Helen Clarke

Adapting to this way of life, while working hard to contribute to fighting the disease and managing the crisis; working hard to protect our communities, while in some cases experiencing the challenges the pandemic has brought to our own personal lives, has been something from which we’ve all learned a lot.

Five months in, and while for the most part our lives begin to look something more like they used to, the pandemic is leading to more specific local challenges, putting intense pressure on local authority communications teams.

In July, Leicester became the first city in the UK to see a significant localised spike in COVID-19 cases. Leicester and Leicestershire communication professionals quickly took the lead in making sure the lockdown was communicated to hard to reach audiences in order to save lives.  

In recognition of the immense amount of work undertaken in Leicester and Leicestershire, and the intense ongoing pressure and heavy workloads that public sector comms staff are facing in dealing with local outbreaks, GCS Local developed a plan to offer bespoke support to councils across the country.

Tailored communications approach

GCS Local is the regional arm of the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office communications team. Staff live and work across the UK with a focus on communicating HM Government priorities to local communities, and reflecting local priorities back into the centre.

Our offer has always been individual, and tailored to meet specific local challenges. But the tailored communications support we have offered over recent months to all areas on the watchlist – listening to local needs and providing or facilitating assistance – has been on another level in terms of its scale.

From providing bespoke content or developing messaging aimed at specific audience groups in local areas, to organising translations of material into community languages or identifying key influencers to help get key information across, we’ve worked with local authority partners to help them do what they are best at. And where required, we’ve worked to train colleagues to help fill specific specialist skills gaps in their teams and do even more – from video editing to tackling disinformation.

Example of localised campaign content. Text says: Visit, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, HM Government.

An example of localised content

Moreover, we’ve made the most of our wide networks of contacts to share best practice across the country, linking up councils in different areas that are facing similar challenges and which can learn from each others’ experiences. 

We’ve put in place processes that have ensured local public sector comms teams are better informed than ever about updates from central government – and enable us to be better informed than ever before about insight from every part of the country.

The pandemic isn’t over and our support continues, developing all the time. We’re currently working on a number of pilot initiatives in different areas and hope to roll these, and other, projects out further.

While normality will one day return, our ways of working have changed permanently. This has, and continues to be, a huge learning experience for us which will shape our work for years to come. 

For more information get in touch with your GCS Local contact.

If you’re a GCS member, you can also watch the Communicating Locally on-demand webinar, hosted by GCS Local.


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