Between 5th and 20th May 2020, on behalf of Moving for Change members, the former National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, I contacted every local authority in England with the exception of the Isles of Scilly in order to get a better picture of the number of families who were living on roadside camps during the first COVID-19 “lockdown” period, and the facilities being provided to meet their needs.
We were able to identify a number of good practice examples (on paper, at least) from the local authorities who responded to our survey and through additional contacts with local authorities outside of the survey. We also kept a record of local authority evictions during and post the first lockdown period (as we found, even local authorities with ‘good practice’ were, on occasion, carrying out evictions). We wrote our findings up in the report Moving for Change: Local Authority approaches to roadside camps in a time of Covid-19.
One problem with reports is that they can be a bit like when someone gets a new puppy. At first people make a lot of fuss of them but over time the amount of attention given to them decreases. One phrase you often hear (about reports but, hopefully, not about puppies) is that they “gather dust” i.e. they are put on a shelf and forgotten.
We wanted to promote the good practice we had identified through our survey so that other local authorities could themselves adopt them. Not everyone will have the time or inclination to read a report. Not everyone will even know that the report exists. So what could we do to bring this good practice to our target audience, namely other local authorities?
Alongside press releases and social media, one strategy we used was to work with the Local Government Association and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to put on a Zoom webinar in June this year. The reason we decided to use this approach was because it would enable us to get our message out to a large number of local authorities, including many with whom we do not usually have contact.
In total, 77 English local authorities signed up for the webinar (just shy of a quarter of all English local authorities) and, on the day, the webinar had 138 attendees. Alongside myself there were speakers form two of the “good practice” local authorities we identified through our survey: Cheshire West and Chester Council and Leicestershire. There was also an opportunity for those attending to ask questions. Encouragingly the majority of these questions focused on meeting needs rather than on enforcement, with several along the lines of “we want to do this but how do we do it?”.
In summary, the webinar was a great opportunity to reach a large number of local authorities, including some who might be described as “hard to reach”. It enabled us to promote the good practice we had identified to a large audience but, as things currently stand, it was a one off. The task now is to build on this to ensure that good practice becomes more widespread, indeed becomes the norm. We have made clear progress but there is a still a lot of work left to do.
About the author
Adrian Jones is a Policy Officer at Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group and acts as a Policy Lead for Moving for Change. Adrian has a Masters degree in Social Research Methods and more than 30 years’ experience in housing policy work in the public, private and voluntary sectors and in academia.