Government Communications Service
Righting the wrongs: learning lessons from Windrush
Blog posted by: Ben Biddulph, Head of Windrush and One Home Office (transformation) Communications, Home Office, 22 June 2021.
In mid-March 2020, as the country confronted the prospect of the first full lockdown, Wendy Williams submitted her Windrush Lessons Learned Review to the Home Office.
Her analysis of the events leading up to the Windrush scandal was laid before Parliament the following day. It was carried by some media outlets but generated nowhere near the volume of coverage it deserved, such was the all-consuming focus on events elsewhere.
But its impact on the Home Office and its staff has been profound.
Addressing MPs, Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke of feeling deeply moved by Wendy Williams’ powerful report. She apologised on behalf of this and previous governments, committed to meet – and wherever possible exceed – each of the report’s 30 recommendations, and promised to do everything possible to rebuild the trust of the communities so profoundly let down.
Home Office staff felt the same sense of shock and regret expressed by the Home Secretary, and the same determination to put things right.
We have been working to rebuild trust ever since, and have learned many lessons – several of which helped shape our contribution to the GCS Five principles to make your campaigns more inclusive. I hope some of those ideas, set out below, may also be useful to other teams across GCS.
Righting the wrongs
Even before the review was published, the Department had undertaken steps to right the wrongs.
We had established a taskforce to support people to secure their immigration status and receive documentation and launched the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
As a comms team, much of our energy has gone into raising awareness of the availability of support for those who need it, and into breaking down the barriers of trust in the Home Office which our research indicated was preventing many people from coming forward to claim the help they deserved.
Relationships go a very long way
We’ve worked hard to build relationships. And even harder to maintain them.
As well as testing with focus groups, we’ve sought to co-create the campaign with members of the communities affected, and with faith and community leaders who have given us invaluable insights and challenge.
At every stage, they have helped to shape our grassroots and advertising campaign, making it better, more effective and more authentic by, for example:
- challenging our assertions on the best channels to deploy
- ensuring the individuals appearing in our materials were as representative as possible of the communities we needed to reach
- acting as a sounding board for our radio adverts and shaping the language we used to ensure it would resonate with those we were seeking to reach
- pushing us to change the way we described the compensation and documentation schemes, which ultimately led to the rebranding of the campaign as the Windrush Help Team.
Authenticity is everything
Our use of co-creation has not been limited to working with wise and well-informed stakeholders.
We sought out partnerships with organisations offering direct links to our target audiences, with housing associations, local authorities and education organisations.
We also formed partnerships with key diaspora media organisations including newspapers, TV and radio stations. Who better to produce content that will resonate with your audience than people who spend all day, every day, delivering content which resonates with your audience?
Using these trusted channels, we have been able to deliver authentic and compelling content, in the vernacular and (where appropriate) the favoured language of the audiences we need to reach.
Wherever possible, we have tried to deploy personal stories of people directly affected by the scandal, describing in their own words the difficulties they faced, alongside the positive experiences of their cases being resolved, their status secured and compensation received.
Communicating content which casts the government in a negative light can feel uncomfortable, but sometimes it is essential for authenticity and honesty.
Seeking out advocates
We knew that conversations on Windrush were happening in places the Home Office has historically struggled to reach. In community centres, churches, and WhatsApp groups – places we could not access.
So, we recruited 40 community-spirited individuals as Windrush Help Team ambassadors. People trusted by their communities who wanted to make a difference by ensuring those affected by Windrush could receive the help and support they needed. We supported them to act as our advocates, to speak at gatherings, run their own events and share our materials, giving the best possible information and challenging lingering misconceptions.
And we looked in our own back yard, recruiting a group of committed and enthusiastic “Windrush volunteers”, members of Home Office staff drawn from the communities affected, who could also act as advocates for our campaign.
A catalyst for change
Clearly, the Home Office’s commitment to responding to learning lessons is far broader than our role as a comms team. The Windrush scandal and Wendy Williams’ review have been a catalyst for change across the Department.
Our new transformation programme, One Home Office, has Windrush at its heart and is influencing every aspect of our work, from the way we are structured to our culture and values.
Nobody at the Home Office would begin to argue that we have learnt every lesson Windrush can teach us, or that we have done all we can.
But, as a comms team, we will continue to be driven by the desire to deliver on that promise, to do everything we can to rebuild the trust of the communities affected by Windrush.
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