Why engagement needs to change

A well-used phrase of mine – which bewilders my kids – is: if a tree falls in a forest and no-one’s around to hear it, how do you know it’s fallen?

It’s not intended as a philosophical question. In a work context, it’s used to stress the importance of letting people know what you’re doing, rather than just doing it and expecting a response.

So, if you’re creating a website, let people know it’s there. If a council makes plans that affect people’s lives, telling them early and offering a chance to feedback should be part of that process.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is to us, and colleagues and clients work every day to engage the public on important things that affect their lives.

Looking more widely, however, there remains a gap created by complexity and exacerbated by a lack of awareness.

Continue reading “Why engagement needs to change”

Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign

One of my saddest moments from the last six months came when I left our office in Bristol for the last time before lockdown started. *

It was 19 March and news broke that all but ‘essential’ travel for work was discouraged. Full lockdown was four days away, but we decided at Social to work from home until further notice from that point. Although we were used to flexible working, vacating our offices en masse took things to a different level.

On the bus home from Bristol, my head was spinning with questions. How are our clients coping? Would clients leave us? What would happen if they did? When would we see the office or colleagues again? After all our work over the previous two-and-a-half years to build a viable business, this felt wounding and deeply unfair. Swapping WhatsApp messages with colleagues, sitting on the top deck, I felt alone.

That week, I spoke with each member of the Bristol team and felt that while there was a chance of getting through this, we had to dig in and work for that outcome. And that’s what we did.

We’ve kept most clients and found new work. We’ve moved into new areas, helping clients engage communities, manage issues and grow. We’ve grown and created new jobs. This week, a new starter joins my team. We’ve done all of this from home, having left our office in the summer.

When I think of how I felt on the way home in March, what’s happened since feels incredible. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s been physically and emotionally draining. Above all, it’s been hard work.

This is my personal backdrop to recent stories about the emerging narrative to persuade people to get ‘back to work’ in a bid to save city centres.

Continue reading “Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign”

Four thoughts on the government’s housing story

Anyone who’s worked in PR within government knows the drill when it comes to big announcements like the Prime Minister’s housing speech today.

The announcement to proposed changes to the dry-but-much-maligned area of planning policy followed some familiar and well-executed steps.

Continue reading “Four thoughts on the government’s housing story”

Reasons to be upbeat after Homes England launch

So, after months and months of preparation, Homes England has arrived.

The Government announced today that the body formerly known as the Homes and Communities Agency has changed and will play a key role in delivering the 300,000 homes a year it has promised.

The change was trailed by the HCA over many months and was planned for last year after it was announced in the White Paper. The housing sector appeared to welcome it, judging by the use of the #WeAreHomesEngland hashtag on Twitter this morning.

Continue reading “Reasons to be upbeat after Homes England launch”

Metro mayor: will we see a ‘nice’ election?

The first hustings for the West of England’s mayoral candidates felt different to the usual tribal exchanges we’ve seen in recent elections.

It was a decent, intelligent debate with different ideas and approaches emerging about how to meet the region’s need for more housing, decent transport and a highly skilled, successful economy.

The region is six weeks away from electing the person who will oversee about £1bn in investment in addressing these three challenges.

Everyone seems to agree that these issues are crucial to the West of England’s future success. Anyone who lives or works in the area knows its traffic and housing problems can get people fired up.

Continue reading “Metro mayor: will we see a ‘nice’ election?”

Three thoughts from the #housingwhitepaper roadshow

“I am a man desperately in need of allies to help build the homes that we can agree are desperately needed in this country.”

Gavin Barwell, Housing Minister, 2 March 2017

I was in Taunton this week to see the housing minister’s white paper roadshow.

Gavin Barwell is at least the eighth housing minister I’ve seen in action since 2004. Five of those were on similar visits to the South West when I worked at the HCA.

To say that he’s inherited a tough gig is an understatement. The Housing White Paper has had a mixed response, which isn’t surprising for a sector with so many interested parties.

Continue reading “Three thoughts from the #housingwhitepaper roadshow”