Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST What one Lib Dem councillor has done under lockdown

Sebastian Field, a Lib Dem councillor from Gloucester,  explains how he has helped and kept in touch with his community under lockdown.

Like many Liberal Democrats, I have been helping out in my council ward during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was due to stand for re-election in May this year, having won the seat in a by-election last July, but these elections have been postponed to next year. 

Although, for obvious reasons, I have not been able to deliver leaflets since the lockdown, or knock on doors, I have been able to help in other ways. 

Initially, I helped deliver a leaflet containing details of the community hub that has been set up at county level and the number for our local community worker. The city council set up a food consortium, and as the food referrer for my ward I was well placed to connect this food service with the food club already operating in my ward. 

As the lockdown went on I tried to keep in touch with residents in various ways. I called residents on the phone, sent out emails to check how people are doing and made sure my contact details were readily available via my social media and website. I also joined and contributed to the local mutual aid network on Facebook.

In some ways, it was quite tough at the beginning to find a role. Normal activity like finding and  reporting casework, relaying residents’ concerns to the council and reporting back via leaflets were all reduced or not allowed. 

After casting around for a role, I determined that I should concentrate on making myself as visible as possible, not in person perhaps but online and via any other channels I could find. I also realised that I would have to get creative with my profile.

I borrowed an idea from the nearby Cheltenham Lib Dems of the ‘photo Spotlight’ (Focus in their and your language, but we call it ‘Spotlight’ in Gloucester). This consisted of five or six photos of action I was taking in the ward, or news items I could report on, with captions. I created a collage of the photos via an app, and would generally release them one by one on Twitter and Instagram, and again as a collage on my campaigning Facebook page. 

Some were photos of issues I’d reported before the lockdown. Although, for example, the highways department was prioritising essential repairs, many of the issues I had reported got fixed anyway. Other examples highlighted local shops that were still offering online or takeaway options.

I took the opportunity to start the email newsletter I had been mulling for a few months. I followed advice from my local party chair and ALDC to create this, and although it’s a learning curve I am getting more responses and casework as a response to them. It is important to be seen as a reliable and trusted source of local information. 

The emails feature advice, useful links, and issues I am working on. Many of the stories are one-line casework issues, often with a link to a fuller description on my website, thus creating click-throughs and raising my profile still further. 

I also make sure that I signpost people to good, free resources online such as free ebooks or music streams. My ward has pockets of deprivation, and for many, lockdown has been a real struggle.

For this reason we sought to help local families in the ward and surrounding area via our child literacy scheme. This was begun before the lockdown in conjunction with the local grammar school and the nearby primary schools, and was designed to help children improve their reading via help from adults and the senior school. 

During lockdown we have delivered hundreds of books and craft kits to local children, thanks to help from my wife obtaining craft materials, friends and Facebook contacts donating books, and the coordinator of the literacy scheme working very hard to get packs of books and materials dropped off to families.

All of this work has kept me busy and will no doubt help to raise my profile before the postponed elections next May - no small concern when I only won my seat by three votes over the Tory.

My primary motivation, though, has been to help people, because that is how I feel I can contribute during the pandemic, and because it is the right thing to do. As a party, we have been exceptionally good at helping people in our communities, and I am proud of what we have done during this crisis.

Helping in our communities and profile building all tie in with the rebuilding work we will have to do to achieve electoral success again, and which acting leader Ed Davey has called for, namely redoubling our efforts to serve our communities the best way we can. We can show that we are the community champions people have long known us to be, and use this as a springboard to getting back to where we can and should be as a party.

Sebastian Field is a Lib Dem councillor for the Podsmead ward in Gloucester.

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