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Understanding residents' communications needs is key

St Matthews Estate Big Local

February 2015

St Matthews take a varied approach to their communications to make sure that they are meeting the needs of the diversity of residents in their Big Local area.

Responding to your audience

St Matthews is a diverse community in Leicester, with around 4,000 residents who speak up to 50 different languages between them. In recognition of this, the Big Local partnership has made an effort to translate their important Big Local materials. Simon Johnson, chair of St Matthews Big Local says:

"We use Google translate but that’s not always accurate so we also ask some of our partnership members what Big Local means to them - to provide a small column within the newsletter to introduce themselves and say what Big Local means to them in their own language."

Using a range of communication methods

St Matthews Big Local know that in their community around 48% of residents are under 24 and so are likely to use Facebook and Twitter. However, to make sure that they also get the messages out to those who don’t use online social media, St Matthews also publishes quarterly newsletters and deliver these to every address on the estate. 

St Matthews Big Local makes use of the notice boards around the estate to share posters written in different languages which let people know about Big Local. They feel it is important to keep all of their online communications up-to-date so that people come back to find out the latest news. Simon explains:

"The key is to keep things updated, so with our website if we don’t keep it updated people won’t check back unless they think there’s something new to look at."

The importance of social media

St Matthews Big Local’s focus on communications has had a positive impact but they have needed to balance this with other demands of delivering Big Local. Simon feels that using social media can be a real asset. He says:

"The more people we can get to look at those social media sites the quicker it is for us to put messages out there. Things like the newsletter obviously take more time to get out there – with more planning and preparation."

To increase resident’s use of Big Local social media, they advertised their Big Local small grants awards through their website and directed people to the application form through their social media channels. This helped people to become familiar with the St Matthews website as a source of information about what’s going on locally. Simon adds:

"In the future we are thinking of doing something similar with our Facebook. To get information about our competition, people will need to go to our Facebook– and we will announce the results there first."

Raising awareness and being transparent

The St Matthews partnership wants to keep a clear account of what they have done. By communicating accurately and regularly in a variety of ways, this helps to keep everything open and transparent. 

The partnership also feel that improving people’s awareness of Big Local is important for the achievement of their plan, and this is something that requires constant attention. Simon says:

"We’ve been going for nearly three years now and we’re still coming across people who say they haven’t heard of Big Local, so it’s important that we continue to advertise it and make people aware of the plans."

Continuing the conversation with residents

The wider purpose of communication in St Matthews is about encouraging people to be supportive and enthusiastic about Big Local. But the partnership also wants to make sure that they are listening to residents and an ongoing conversation about their plans continues. Simon says:

"You’ve got to communicate with the community because you’ve got to know that it’s relevant to their needs and keep checking back with them that we’re actually making some positive change."

The benefits of a focus on communications

Beyond keeping everyone up to date with what’s happening through Big Local and supporting engagement, St Matthews Big Local’s efforts have also helped to ensure that a positive relationship is developing beyond those most immediately involved in Big Local. Simon explains:

"We have received very little criticism of what we’ve been doing and I put that down to keeping people informed. All of our meetings are open for example - so anyone could come along to them in the community and we keep advertising what we’re doing.’ 

Using a variety of approaches

Simon emphasises that it’s important to use a range of approaches to successfully share what they are doing, to meet the diversity of different communication needs in the area. They are particularly pleased that the newsletter is making a difference to people’s awareness of Big Local and sparking further interest. Simon adds:

"Our newsletter actually gets delivered to every single address on the estate, 1,600 homes and that generates a lot of local conversations - that’s the one that has generated the most excitement – the most conversations about Big Local."

Tops tips for other Big Local areas

Simon feels that the positive impact they have made with their communications in St Matthews is down to making the effort to understand the needs of the people living there. Knowing your audience determines what the right approach to communications will be. As he says:

"You’ve got to assess the demographics of the area and respond to those needs. So if there are a lot of younger people in the area, you’re probably going to need to do a lot of things around social media. If you‘ve got an older demographic you might need to produce more things in print. So you have to respond to the residents you’ve got.

Plans for the future

While St Matthews Big Local’s efforts currently focus on sharing key messages to reach out to new networks in the area, in the future they plan to gather more feedback from residents through their social media channels. They also hope to create more visual forms of communication to share what they are doing, as they feel these speak to a wide group of people and share messages effectively. Simon explains why he thinks visual communication is important:
"On our website we’ve got films about the local area and about Big Local. It’s a bit more time-intensive but for all languages and all cultures, visual things are easier to understand."

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