Sometimes, comms opportunities come from the most surprising sources...
by GUEST EDITOR Helen Fincher
A few months ago I had what some people might consider a mad idea, but one that to me made perfect sense: I want to send my Council Leader to a supermarket.
Not to shop, but to talk to people. I wanted the Leader, Martin Tett, to go out into communities and seek people out to hear their concerns first-hand.
I discussed the idea with Martin, and it’s fair to say that initially he was a little reluctant as to whether it would work. I persuaded him that it would be a good thing to do – there is method in my madness, I told him.
Councils can sometimes be seen by residents as faceless and invisible. Martin is a committed and dedicated Leader and I wanted that to be demonstrated more explicitly through people being able to easily meet Martin, talk to him and question him face to face in an ordinary, non-threatening environment.
The drop-in session worked. Over the course of two hours based at a table at the front of the supermarket, Martin, two of our councillors and I were kept very busy, taking on some challenging questions about almost every area of our services.
It was very clear that residents wanted to talk to us and valued the chance to do that so simply. And even those didn’t discuss anything with him were making very positive comments about the fact that as a council we are reaching out to people in their communities.
Our second supermarket session is taking place later this month and the plan is to rotate around the county, running a supermarket drop-in session every couple of months.
I have really valued the support and trust of Martin, Cabinet Members and our local councillors in making the supermarket initiative work.
In difficult times, it’s important that leaders are visible, accessible and approachable; and prepared to hear first-hand from residents about the issues that concern them, how they think we’re doing, and how we could do things better.
The advent of digital and social is great; I’m a digital devotee - I love it and I use it. But sometimes, you can’t beat a bit of old fashioned, face to face conversation.
Helen Fincher is a Media Officer at Buckinghamshire County Council
pic via Flickr Creative Commons