Last month, Alan Rider, Catherine Obradovic and I visited Sunderland City Council. We found out how it’s working in partnership with local organisations to help customers with council services. This includes completing council transactions online.
Sunderland City Council operates six drop-in centres and provides extensive telephone support for all council services. Each drop-in centre has self-service computer terminals. The centres encourage visitors to complete digital council transactions unaided wherever possible. Additionally, telephone points help customers with any queries.
Sunderland City Central Customer Service Centre
We visited Sunderland’s main centre, the Sunderland City Central Customer Service Centre. If a visitor to the centre can't use the council’s digital services independently (because they lack the skills or confidence), they are referred to a trained adviser. Margaret is an adviser at the centre. She explained to us how she helps people to transact with the council online. She supports customers to do as much as they can by themselves. She only takes over the keyboard and mouse on behalf of a customer when they need a bit of extra help.
Sunderland City Council realised that the best way to support its service users is through working in partnership with local organisations and charities. These organisations often already know and help the council's most vulnerable customers. As well as operating its own drop-in centres, Sunderland City Council commissions local charities to support customers with council services.
Shiney Advice and Resource Project
One of these charities is the Shiney Advice and Resource Project (ShARP). This is a community based charity giving advice and guidance to people in Sunderland about benefits, debt management support and employment. The charity offers drop-in services for older people and those with children. It also helps customers complete certain council services online.
We met Emma, the manager at ShARP, who gave us a tour of the centre. Emma explained that the charity often supports people who are going through difficult periods in their lives such as homelessness and redundancy. In the short time we had at ShARP, the hard work of the team shone through and was simply inspirational.
The way in which Sunderland City Council and charities like ShARP support people is great because they tailor the help they provide to the needs of local people. The support is also located in places that people trust and feel comfortable in. Our research on offline users has found that a trusted and familiar environment is one of the most important user requirements for assisted digital support.
We really enjoyed our visit and would like to say a big thank you to Liz, Helen, Tony, Margaret, Alison and Rose from Sunderland City Council. We’d also like to thank Emma and the whole team at ShARP.