The Bureau, Glossop’s VCSE organisation, engaged local people and encouraged walking activities using social media, learning about community needs, adapting their offering to suit different circumstances, and promoting physical activity for overall wellbeing.
Changing community habits due to COVID-19
Glossopdale Moving Engagement Worker Helen Thornhill and her team were engaging with local people in less affluent areas through food cafés, which opened every week. ‘I’d go along to the centres, chat to people, and find out what was happening with their lives,’ explains Helen. ‘It was a great way to learn how we could help them to be more active.’
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the centres moved to online deliveries. ‘Of course, there could no longer be an open door policy,’ says Helen. ‘Residents could book time slots, yet there were no community groups attending. We knew we needed to change our approach to keep engagement levels high. As a team, we took the time to pause and reflect on what we’d learnt so far, asking ourselves what had been successful and how we could adapt that to suit the changing times.’
Using Facebook to engage local people
Glossop is a closely-knit community, who are really active on different social media pages, particularly Facebook. There are nine community pages in this small town, the largest with up to 30K members. ‘That’s a massive reach, with huge potential,’ Helen explains. ‘We needed to make the most of it as we needed to show people that moving more, particularly during a pandemic, was essential for physical and mental wellbeing,’
Helen started asking engagement questions on the community groups, such as how activity levels had changed, what people were doing in the local spaces and, most importantly, how that could be improved. Helen explains ‘Many of the comments were concerned parents, worried that their children’s level of activity had significantly decreased during lockdown.’
Engagement within the community groups was high, so Helen quickly learnt that adapting her approach to include Facebook as a way to reach the community had huge potential. To build on this, Helen created her own Facebook page for her campaign, Move More Glossop.
Helen began by planning and scheduling each post carefully, making sure the message about moving more was being constantly shared. Helen then checked-in to see how the post was performing, testing and adjusting the timing of her posts based on what she’d learnt was getting the most interaction. She then shared here post on other pages to gather responses, and replied to all residents’ comments to increase community reach.
Learning and adapting for positive change
One of the common themes coming out the Facebook conversations was the barrier to activity due to limited outdoor space available. To respond, Helen and her team organised multiple local walks for families, such as Glossop Milestones, which have grown steadily in popularity - largely thanks to social media.
‘This is a great example of why the test and learn approach we took was so valuable,’ Helen explains. ‘We tested our methods by posting on different community groups at different times of day, and responding to Facebook messages so we could understand what really mattered to residents. This meant we could engage them using communication about activities we knew would be most popular. Engaging with the community in this way on Facebook means we’ve been able to hear their feedback, learn from their responses, and adapt what we offer to meet their needs.’
Based on this feedback, more walks were added, including those with more accessible routes for different abilities, and wheelchair and pushchair users. ‘We also recorded an audio version of the walks,’ adds Helen. ‘Public Health England says the UK average reading age is eight, and we knew a written story was a barrier to joining in. Now, people can simply scan a QR code for a story version recorded by an actress, with different voices and characters to make the walks more engaging.’
Social media responses also helped Helen make sure all the community’s needs were being met. ‘Sadly, one of the walks had to be adapted as some local teenagers were destroying some of the markers,’ says Helen. ‘Yet once I engaged with that age group on a local youth social media forum, I learned they were feeling a little lost. We’re now engaging with them online to find activities they can do that suit them, from looking at more cycling provisions to organising a silent disco walking tour of the Manchester music scene. We can’t promise anything, but the insights help inform our plans.’
Overcoming engagement challenges
Engaging the Glossop community to increase activity levels through social media has been a success. Yet Helen is conscious not every person has been reached. ‘The challenge is the digital divide,’ Helen explains. ‘We know not everyone can be, or wants to be, engaged with social media.’
Helen knows they need to keep reaching more people. Yet social media has given them the insights to meet community needs through online engagement. ‘The pandemic has really focussed our learning on how we adapt what we do to engage people in the activities that are crucial for their physical, and mental, health,’ she says.
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