Inspiring activism: outreach that goes local and personal

What is the best route to mobilising local activism? Of
course, all organisations are different, and the current social and economic
climate provides a challenging backdrop. But at the Switchover Help Scheme
the organisation set up to deliver practical support to help older and disabled
people switch to digital television – we’ve worked with a range of partners to try to do things
in a new way. 

Picture this: in late 2009, a bus is making its way along
the meandering route between Newquay and St. Austell, Cornwall. Its driver,
Paul, puts the relationships he’s built with regular older passengers to good
use by helping them understand the help they can get through switchover.

How did we encourage someone like Paul – someone who is
trusted by the older people he sees day-in, day-out – to put his hand up and
help out?

Back in 2008 we kicked off a huge range of work with
statutory and third sector organisations to raise awareness of the support we
offer. As effective as this was, we needed to do something different for those
eligible people without a strong support network to rely on. These aren’t easy
people to reach: they tend not to engage with mainstream communications and can
be extremely selective about the people they trust and rely on.

We therefore devised a ‘communities programme’, that would go well beyond the partnership work we were already doing and tap
into the sense of community that exists at a local level.

The programme uses word of mouth to generate interest among
people already trusted by the hardest to reach. Like Paul, these trusted people
have real relationships with our eligible people, and range from shopkeepers,
hairdressers and carers to community car drivers, GPs and psychiatric nurses.
We call them ‘community supporters’.

Finding a route to the right ‘community supporters’ is
essential. To do it, we work with groups that support disadvantaged people on
the ground like the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council, Circles Network
and Voluntary Action Orkney. We run skills workshops to demonstrate how workers
can identify the community supporters that will then support the hardest to

The dedication and commitment of hundreds of volunteers like
Paul has helped some of the most disadvantaged people in the UK. By going
ultra-local and tapping into actual relationships, we’ve been able to help
those people reconnect with communities, foster new relationships and, of
course, avoid being left with a blank screen at switchover.

Luke McCullough is outreach manager for the Switchover Help
run by the BBC