Take 2,500 snow shovels, tubs of rock salt and high visibility vests. Add a band of willing people ready to help their community. Sprinkle generously with snow...
You may have heard about Snow Champions taking to the streets of Sandwell in the bad weather. They’ve certainly been making an impression on Twitter and on the Sandwell Facebook page.
Before Christmas, Sandwell Council gave out 2,500 shovels, salt tubs and blue vests to Snow Champions - people who pledged to use the equipment to help in the community.
The idea is simple. Snow Champions use the snow shovel and salt to clear an elderly neighbour's path so they can get out of the house, or to make a pavement or footpath passable.
You can't get much more “social” than that.
We know that social media comes into its own for councils in the cold weather – people want to know if their bin collections are affected; if the gritters are out; if schools are closed.
So, with the weather forecast for the weekend looking pretty frightful, last Friday evening, I (along with my fellow “gritting geeks” from councils across the Midlands) was poised to get as much information out there as possible to help people through the cold weather.
Not only was I looking forward to using the brilliant #wmgrit hashtag to chart the movements of Sandwell's gritting crews, but I was also itching to see our Snow Champions using their shovels and salt for the first time.
Now, not everyone loves snow – I know that. In fact, snow has a particularly bad name in our house at the moment as my better half recovers from a fairly serious skiing injury.
But as the white stuff started to fall on Saturday afternoon across the West Midlands, I started to get excited – and so did our Snow Champions.
On Twitter, we used the #SnowChampion hashtag and asked people to share photos of themselves and the good work they were out doing in the community. And they responded – proudly Tweeting photos and stories of the pavements, footpaths and even a pedestrian crossing they had cleared of
It was the same on Facebook. By Saturday evening, the wall on our Sandwell page was filled with inspirational shots of Snow Champions clearing paths, driveways and even the grounds of a community centre. As more people joined the conversation – sharing their Snow Champion photos and stories, congratulating one another for helping out and “gritter spotting” – our Facebook and Twitter following grew.
Cold weather really warms things up for social media. Sandwell’s Snow Champions used it to tell their own stories and spread real community spirit.
It also brought them to the attention of the local and national media and even the government (Snow Champions will feature in a DCLG newsletter for resilience teams across the country), in a way that a council press release simply couldn't have done.
And with more snowy weather forecast, they aren't hanging up their snow shovels (or their hashtags) just yet.
Claire Bustin is a press officer at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council