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Why staff are eyes and ears of our communities
Paul Barton, Director of Environment, Wigan Council , 30 April, 2018

We know our staff are our biggest asset and at a time of limited resources we need to ensure we are utilising their full potential.

We deploy operational staff in communities every day, collecting the bins, cutting the grass and picking up litter. These people know the local area they work in, they recognise the familiar faces, and we recognised they could be one of our biggest strengths.

We developed an innovative training experience for our environmental staff so they could get a better understanding of how they were helping the council to achieve its priorities, and how they fitted into the big picture.

As part of the programme staff went through ‘eyes and ears’ training. Staff were given advice on how to spot warning signs or safeguarding concerns in communities, while doing their normal day to day jobs.

The aim is to prevent someone reaching crisis point by spotting the signs early that they need help. The member of staff who collects the bins every day might notice that the curtains have been shut for three days, the milk hasn’t been brought in, or pick up other issues that just don’t look or feel right.

Staff are encouraged to report anything they see or hear which is out of the ordinary. It’s a way of us identifying our most vulnerable residents that need our help and give them the support they need.

Any reports or concerns from staff are referred to the borough’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which is made up of different agencies and services including Greater Manchester Police, Citizens Advice, adult social care, mental health, complex dependency team, domestic violence, victim support, and housing, who work together across the borough to support adults and families.

The hub encourages information and intelligence sharing amongst professionals and agencies, through a safe, confidential and common process. Working in one place promotes collaboration which is a key tool to building strong partnership working.

In one case concerns about a female who was caught with a low level shoplifting offence were reported and on investigation from the safeguarding hub it was discovered the female was currently homeless and had health issues.

Thanks to the referral accommodation was found for her and her flat was furnished using local charities and community resources. She is now also registered with a dentist and doctor, is volunteering with a local community group and is being supported to find permanent employment.

The Deal is the council’s informal contract with its residents – for both sides to work together for a better borough. Through The Deal we encourage staff to have different conversations with residents, and with each other, focusing on their strengths and ambitions. By giving staff the permission to work differently they are more connected to the communities they work in and to residents.

It’s not an over exaggeration to say that this initiative is making a real difference to our vulnerable residents and is potentially saving lives.