Communicating about violence reduction presents its own challenges.
When I started working as the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit’s Senior Communications Officer in November 2021, after four years working for a Member of Parliament, I knew that the communications challenges would be different to the ones I had faced previously.
Members of Parliament receive a lot of incoming correspondence from people who need their support with problems, from benefits to housing to healthcare. This can create its own set of pressures, and its own set of communications challenges, particularly where the outcome of a particular case isn’t what the constituent was hoping for.
VRUs don’t have the same representative or advocacy role, but the very nature of communicating about violence brings its own complications. Violence is unpleasant, and can devastate the lives of individuals, families, and whole communities.
VRUs are only established in the twenty areas with the highest recorded rates of violence – not a list anyone wants to be on. The challenge, then, is obvious. How do you communicate about the work the VRU does, when that work is intrinsically linked to something so devastating, and when the very existence of a VRU highlights the prevalence of violence?
The approach I have taken, building on the work done by my predecessor in the role, is to place the focus on the positive work the VRU is doing to prevent and reduce violence. That, after all, is what we are here for.
That means highlighting the exciting, in some cases groundbreaking, work taking place in South Yorkshire. This includes our A&E and Custody Navigator programmes, and our grant funding rounds, which this year focus on supporting young people, and preventing Violence Against Women and Girls.
It means engaging with our communities, across South Yorkshire. That face-to-face engagement is something we have all missed during the pandemic, and it’s great to be able to do it again, both visiting organisations and attending engagement events. If you’ve seen us at one of the events, chances are you’ll have left with a VRU teddy bear, and hopefully with a bit more knowledge and understanding of who we are and what we do.
And it means ensuring that the VRU is well known and accessible, to key partners, stakeholders, and residents – not just explaining who we are and what we do, but making sure that we communicate clearly and simply with those we are trying to reach. This helps to strengthen our partnerships with organisations and communities, partnerships which are at the centre of what we do.
On our visits to organisations across the county, I’m struck by just how much fantastic work is taking place to support South Yorkshire’s communities, both in the public and private sectors.
I’m fortunate that my role leading our communications and engagement means I get to see a lot of that work first hand. Sometimes, that work is taking place in the most challenging circumstances, and I am always humbled to meet those delivering it.