What was the event about?
LGCommunications delivered a great one day session focusing on a variety of community cohesion perspectives at Coin Street, SE1. During the course of the day, local government communications and policy professionals from London borough’s (and further afield such as Portsmouth) heard from a range of interesting speakers.
Joanne McCartney – Assembly member, Chair of the Police and Crime Committee talked about the Preventing extremism in London report (December 2015) about the Prevent initiative. She highlighted the Counter Terrorism Act responsibilities that now fall to local authorities.
Alex Atherton, a headteacher from St John’s Wood spoke about how he worked with his media team and community to tackle an issue which historically linked the school to high-profile radicalisation.
Polly Czoik – Director of Communications at Hackney, Council illustrated a different aspect of community cohesion: in relation to housing and finance differentials between residents and the associated socio– economic polarisation. She outlined how Hackney had tackled this and other issues through the I love Hackney campaign, which is now 10 years old and new initiatives to engage with residents.
Chief Inspector Nick Collins outlined the Metropolitan police’s approach to community cohesion, which is delivered through local policing. There are four priorities: community engagement, fair treatment, dealing with crime and dealing with anti-social behaviour.
What were people saying
Joanne felt that it was important that people understand that the initiatives in place were there to keep them safe and that the government is not spying on them.
Alex said that from the outset is critical to “gain and retain control of the narrative”. He achieved this by working with the media rather than against them, briefing staff and parents. And critically, reaching out to his partners, e.g. police and community leader contacts.
Polly has positive measures for Hackney in relation to cohesion around place satisfaction. Building a cohesive sense of place and listening and responding to residents is the way to achieve this.
Nick related that empowering participation and ensuring that people have the willingness, opportunity and capacity to get involved is essential. He highlighted the importance of partnership working and encouraged us to refresh our partnership relationships. As well as listening, the Metropolitan Police have committed to respond to concerns raised by the community (unless there is a good reason for them not to do so). Nick knew from experience that with an immediate and volatile situation it is very difficult to get on the front foot with social media and that newsletters and face-to-face contact are the most effective form of communication, even though they are resource intensive.
The necessity for trust from the community to the authorities was a key point made by all of the presenters. This is not something that you can establish once an event has occurred, but something that we should all be striving for in everything we do.
What can we do practically?
The first thing is to look at the data you have to enable you to understand your community and key contacts. The second is to build a relationship with individuals, communities and neighbourhoods. Taking time to maintain these relationships in the ‘good times’ will put you in good stead for when difficulties occur. This approach certainly helped us in Lambeth, following the 7/7 bombings and 2011 disorder.
As with any communications having business continuity and crisis contingencies will always be important. This includes the basics, such as having the contact details for key personnel and stakeholders, as well as social media passwords with you at all times.
LGCommunications will be posting the notes from the session on their website. You can also catch up on the days events and keep up-to-date with the discussion on Twitter #community cohesion. Contact me if you’d like to know more or have some ideas to contribute.