An evaluation of three West Midlands local authority COVID-19 Community Champions programmes delivered in support of the national vaccination effort
Evaluation in progress. Expected completion date July 2023
What does the research mean for Local Authorities?
Community Champions were seen as an essential resource during the COVID-19 pandemic for communication efforts in support of boosting COVID-19 vaccine take up, particularly within at-risk groups. Given their value as part of the wider public health workforce, three local authorities in the West Midlands, Birmingham City, Sandwell, and Walsall want to know to what extent are their activities transferable to other public health missions. This will be gauged through detailing communication methods, impact on community trust, and sustainability of Community Champion activities.
What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?
Guidance published by Public Health England during the COVID-19 pandemic defined Community Champions as community members who volunteer to promote health and wellbeing or improve conditions in their local community. They are viewed as having the ability to strengthen social connections and supporting increased access to services within disadvantaged communities. However, there is limited evidence in terms of health outcomes, specifically in relation to the targeted health behaviour of COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Our evaluation will attempt to assess this relationship and understand the suitability of Community Champions to be deployed for other local authority-led public health promotion efforts.
How are the public involved in the project?
Patient and public involvement (PPI) will be embedded throughout the project. PPI leads will inform the development of topic guides for semi-structured interviews with those involved with both coordinating and delivering Community Champion activities in support of COVID-19 vaccine uptake, as well as those in the communities in which activities were targeted upon. They will support the construction of survey questionnaires delivered to community members within each of the three local authorities. Additionally, they will also support the development of material and outputs used for knowledge mobilisation and dissemination of findings.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) provided funding that was accessible to all local authorities in England. This was to support their Community Champion programmes to boost COVID-19 vaccine take up, particularly within those most at risk of the virus. Three local authorities in the West Midlands, Birmingham City, Sandwell, and Walsall received £440,000, £318,000, and £432,500 respectively to support their Community Champion efforts in communicating accurate health information. While there is evidence demonstrating Community Champions’ ability to build and strengthen social connections, as well as helping those most disadvantaged to link to healthcare services, little is known about their impact on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination. As well as where else their efforts could be applied to support other local authority-led public health programmes.
There are reasons why this will be a complex intervention to evaluate. Firstly, the intervention is not one activity. Community Champion programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic included a range of activities such as pop-up clinics and vaccination buses. Secondly, given each public health team’s expert knowledge of their authority, they had the ability to tailor their programme to the specific needs of the people in their community. And thirdly, as evaluators we will work across three different areas meaning different challenges with data collection and in understanding the characteristics of each community.
Working with the three local authorities, we will collect and analyse information on Community Champion activities in relation to COVID-19 vaccine uptake, taking account for other important factors relating to vaccine choice. Our evaluation will aim to provide insight and understanding as to the potential sustainability of Community Champion activities for use by local authorities for other public health promotion efforts. To do this, we interview those involved in developing and delivering Community Champion programmes, as well as the community members at whom the activities were designed to support. Our research team will spend time in communities, across all three local authorities, and use validated survey methods to measure people’s trust in both local government and public healthcare organisations. We will be supported by having an embedded researcher. They will be based at Sandwell Council, but will have access and spend time with all three local authority partners. They will work alongside Sandwell Council’s public health team, speak with community partners, and be on-the-ground to help with data collection.
Birmingham City Council
PHIRST Fusion Research Team
University of Edinburgh: Professor Ruth Jepson, Dr Divya Sivaramkrishnan, Dr Glenna Nightingale
Newcastle University: Dr Louis Goffe, Dr Andrew Passey
University of Glasgow: Dr Nai Rui Chng