Barking & Dagenham had among the lowest levels of cohesion in London by some metrics. Large sections of the community didn’t trust the council. In some areas, this meant that those with an anti-inclusive agenda had gained the ear of local people. We were asked to work with communities and the council over a prolonged period, to try and come up with a set of strategies for re-establishing trust.
How we approached it
We found a that local people’s values were based on traditionalism, social conservativism and fear of threats. Many were anxious about resources, and felt worried by rapid population changes. They were liable to have a siege mentality as a result – relying on familiar, informal and ultra-localised channels, and becoming suspicious of outsider input.
We developed a narrative based on re-establishing the things people felt had been lost – family, neighbourliness, helping each other out. To embed the narrative, the council launched a peer-to-peer comms programme in ‘hotspot’ areas. Influential locals were recruited – hairdressers, publicans, etc – and worked to promote positive messages. Running alongside this we trained 2,000 council staff, so that they could help bring communities back onboard through their first-hand interactions.
The programme enabled more resonant communications using trusted channels, and showed residents the council was making a determined effort to listen. Policy initiatives which flowed from the project succeeded in rebuilding confidence, and an independent evaluation by Brighton University found a 20 per cent increase in the NI1 cohesion metric in just three years.