A scheme empowering people to become trusted sources of public health information within their communities has attracted more than 80 volunteers.
Durham County Council launched its Covid-19 Community Champion programme last November to help share clear and consistent messages about coronavirus and the restrictions in place.
Since then, dozens of people from across the county have signed up to the scheme and are not only sharing accurate information but are using their own networks to gather feedback from their communities. This local insight has proven invaluable to the council and other organisations, helping to shape targeted responses and communication messages, as well as supporting partnership work.
The volunteers bring a wealth of experience and skills from a mix of personal and professional backgrounds and are a key element in supporting the council to deliver the County Durham Covid-19 Local Outbreak Control Plan.
This week, the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board (HWB) received an update on the programme and its success so far, with the champions dealing with a wealth of enquiries on issues including the vaccination roll out and personal protective equipment.
Board members also heard about the links they have made with local groups and organisations, the engagement work carried out in areas with higher numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and the many positive relationships that have been formed with people living and working in County Durham.
The scheme has proven so successful, the council is looking at how it can be sustained beyond the pandemic.
Khalil Alloqa, from Durham City, was one of the first people to volunteer for the scheme.
The Durham Business School student said: “It has been a wonderful experience so far being part of a big community of volunteers. I have had a chance to share regular updates with my community, to respond to their queries, and to direct them to the most appropriate services for support.
“I’m also engaged in the vaccination programme as a marshal. It’s really fulfilling to see people coming together to tackle the pandemic. For some residents, such as those who are shielding, we are the first faces that they have met or spoken to for some time. It’s important for me to be part of this; it means a lot and makes me happy.”
Cllr Lucy Hovvels, chair of the HWB and the council’s Cabinet member for adults and health services, said: “I am delighted to see how well the Covid-19 Community Champions programme is supporting our communities through the pandemic.
“Providing accurate information and advice is crucial for keeping people safe and has been a key priority for the council from the outset. We know people often turn to their friends and neighbours when they have a question, which is why our community champions are such an important part of our response to the pandemic, providing reliable and clear messages in a timely way.
“I would like to thank all of the community champions for the amazing work they are doing.”
Fellow HWB member Cllr Olwyn Gunn, the council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “Our community champions have made such a positive contribution to the fight against coronavirus and they should feel immensely proud of their efforts.
“Getting messages across to young people can be especially challenging, as they are often less likely to access traditional methods of communication or follow our social media channels. Our champions offer another way for us to reach out to young people and provide the information they need to keep them and their loved ones safe and well.”
Covid-19 Community Champions provide support across the county in three geographically defined teams, North, South and East.
Those who sign up to the programme are encouraged to develop the role to suit their own circumstances and the needs of their community. There are two options, Champions and Champions Plus, with everyone who signs up offered support, training and regular opportunities to meet up and share ideas and experiences. Champions Plus volunteers can also choose to carry out additional duties, including sharing information at events, and helping local voluntary and community sector organisations. Champions Plus volunteers will also receive extra training.
To find out more about the programme and to sign up, visit www.durham.gov.uk/covidcommunitychampion.