How COVID confirmed Greater Manchester’s focus on people not programmes

By Daisy Carter | 21 January 2021

Remote learning, home working, online exercising and virtual socialising, we’ve rapidly adapted the way we live to ‘stay home’ and ‘stay local’.

As we’ve found new and different ways to keep connected, people’s need for new and different ways to receive help and support have also become clear, prompting public and voluntary services to rapidly change their ways of working together.

Our last blog gave an overview on what Greater Manchester has learned from its emergency response touching on how urgent changes to frontline provision not only threw out ‘business as usual’ but also inspired colleagues to rethink the way they work in the future.

In looking at how the ‘citizen experience’ changed, this piece first shares some of the stories of how services were overturned and then identifies some changes colleagues wish to keep and amplify after the pandemic.

A significant shift in ‘citizen experience’ saw people helped when and where they needed the help, often in community spaces set up the VCSE sector rather than the council. In Trafford, six community hubs were created in four localities by local groups to offer food banks, benefit help and extra support for people who were shielding. 

Recognising the effectiveness of the hubs, the local authority stepped back to allow the groups to thrive. Council colleagues offered volunteers training on safeguarding to understand how to spot risk and escalate to the right team, allowing council staff to reach individuals and families in need of support.

In Tameside, the council and providers worked quickly together to shift support for parents from face-to-face to a largely virtual service. Young parents were offered daily support over WhatsApp; families in parent groups received activity packs and explainer videos from crèche workers; parenting resources were shared via Facebook Live and parenting courses were delivered by Skype and phone. This move to reach parents in their own homes, in their own time, improved participation and attendance.

Across Greater Manchester, the ‘Everybody In’ initiative to take rough sleepers off the streets saw the GM Homes Partnership offer accommodation as well as a deeper level of personal support. Staff took time to chat over the phone, encouraging people to open up about their lives and interests so they could find better ways to be supported. One colleague arranged to do a crossword with the same resident every week, which helped to build a strong rapport.

Having listened to residents’ interests, passions and strengths, GM Homes Partnership provided a new ‘personalisation fund’ to pay for home gym equipment, art supplies, radios and televisions as part of a broader package to help tackle addiction. 

To learn from innovation in the pandemic, from May to September 2020 Innovation Unit ran workshops for more than 100 colleagues from these, and many other, service areas across the 10 Greater Manchester authorities.

Common themes emerged around the benefits of offering people the help they need, in the places they live, and around closer working with the VCSE sector. Colleagues reported that:

  • More people were reached more quickly when help was offered via local spaces like churches and schools
  • Moving online helped staff find advice more quickly, increase participation and ease waiting times
  • People in need were identified quickly through sharing local information and knowledge across groups
  • The usual approach of providing help through programmes and assessments: ‘this is what we have, who needs it most?’ shifted to focusing on people needs: ‘how can we help?’

These learnings demonstrate the impact of doing things quite differently on the front line and provide a powerful springboard to ‘design forward differently’. As Dave Kelly, GMCA’s head of reform, says: ‘The COVID community response demonstrated real power in focusing on two quite simple things: what matters and what works? There was no time for long winded assessments, multiple referrals and ‘sign-posting’, people got the help they needed when they needed it. That’s got to be a change for the better.’

Our next blogs will look at what Greater Manchester learned about their workforce and culture; how leadership and governance changed; and how system conditions were eased to allow innovation to flourish.

Daisy Carter, project coordinator, Innovation Unit

You can read the full report here and you can follow Innovation Unit on Twitter @innovation_unit

To talk to Innovation Unit, contact daisy.carter@innovationunit.org

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