In our Decades in Days series, we talk to the people leading change in local government. They tell us about their work, their place, and the effect of COVID-19 on both. We find out how they are dealing with the incredible demands of a pandemic, and how this moment might be used to shift and shape public services for good. This week, we speak to Michelle McGinty, Head of Programme Delivery at Coventry City Council.
When Covid took hold, everything else I was doing was put to one side. I was asked to lead a new ‘cell’ as part of our Emergency Response structure, focused on working and engaging with the community.
Within a few hours we were actively doing things. We worked with the community and voluntary sector to set up a new network of 10 food hubs – that meant identifying locations, starting new hubs or expanding existing ones, deploying staff and mobilising volunteers. We set up an online interactive map so people could find support, and we set up a community network to work alongside residents.
The council and community have been equal partners rallying around the same cause. I was speaking to someone in the voluntary sector, who said previously the council would tend to identify a problem, try to come up with a solution, and then consult with partners. This has been different – we’ve got a problem, and we’ve all worked together from the start to solve it.
People have felt empowered and trusted to get on with things. We’re moving mountains in days. Our elected members have also been supportive and up for the challenges that we have faced together. From everyone who’s been involved, there’s an overwhelming sense they don’t want to go back to the way we were before.
It’s been exhausting and tough but it’s been the single biggest time I’ve felt I’ve made a difference. The experience re-grounds you. It reminds you why you entered public service in the first place.
Working with communities saved our city’s universal youth provision. A few years ago we announced we couldn’t afford to fund spaces and services for all our young people. Our youth voluntary sector stepped in and said ‘We could do it instead – you just need to help us.’ That’s how the Coventry Youth Partnership was born.
It was a big deal for the council to try a different way of working. We got the partnership off the ground by connecting organisations and offering kick-start funding. We had a panel of people to recommend who got the funding. It was made up of elected members, council officers and community members and was chaired by a young person. It felt equal. Thanks to this, Coventry still has a universal youth provision that’s become self-sustaining.
As we stand down our Covid emergency response we’ll take the same thinking to the next burning issue. I’d like to use those relationships we’ve built and our new way of thinking and apply it to tackling poverty and hardship in Coventry – that’s a really key priority for us.
I’m a Cov kid through and through. I grew up here and I’ve only ever worked for two organisations – I first came to the council in 2001 on a year’s temporary contract. One of the reasons I’ve worked at the council so long is the opportunity to do different things. I’ve never felt bored, ever.
But there is a challenge about keeping your perspective fresh. I promised to give myself a talking to if I ever say ‘We’ve done that before’ or ‘That will never work’.
The biggest thing about working here is the people. They’re proud to work for the council and proud to work in the city as well. It feels like another family here.