Lockdown, an opportunity for rural councils to further understand what matters to residents

C.Co have been working alongside a number of local councils throughout the current coronavirus crisis, supporting some of the frontline services as well as helping authorities to think about what things might look like when we emerge into a ‘new normal’. What has really surprised us is the willingness of residents to really want to engage with their local services, to share their views on what they value and help to design of future public service delivery, despite everything that is going on in their worlds. This opportunity to seriously engage and co-design solutions has really highlighted to us the importance of what we do through stable, and increasingly unstable times.

We are just finalising a significant library consultation for one of the largest unitary councils in the country, Northumberland County Council.  Northumberland is home to 316,000 people and covers an area of  over 5,000km. 97% of its area is classed as rural and the county is sparsely populated with 63 people per km. Half of the county's population live in 3% of urban land found in the south-east of the county. The county also has a higher than average proportion of elderly residents.

Not only was there a huge will to engage - we received over 5,000 responses and hundreds of offers to speak to help co-design the future service offer – it also made it abundantly clear that libraries are vitally important to those in rural areas and are much more than just a place to pick up or drop off books. The survey showed they are valued as:

  • A friendly and safe place to go
  • A place to meet people
  • A place to work or study
  • A community space for groups and events
  • A place of learning

Whilst being a place to access to modern technology was also seen as important it should be noted that of the 5,000 responses we received, over 1,400 were paper copies! We cannot overlook more traditional means of engagement and respect its place in society, particularly in areas where for good reason technology isn’t as accessible.

Whilst we all know deep down that the rebuild of public services post pandemic must not be based on how things used to be, but what is needed. Nonetheless, there is equally a risk that we will overlook actually asking residents what is needed, what is valued, what hasn’t been missed, what is critical.

Our experience has shown us that right now people want to tell us and we have the mechanisms and experience to hear them. We help organisations collaborate, during the good times and the challenging. We believe positive collaboration can help organisations meet the challenges they face and work to create public services that are designed by people and deliver for people.

Natalie Abraham
C.Co Managing Director

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