“If it was as simple as just calmly moving people on from shop doorways and they wouldn’t return, obviously we’d do that” Mark Reynolds, Principal Community Safety Officer, explains to local businesses, “that just wastes everyone’s time; upsets the people around, and doesn’t make any difference.  From what I’ve seen, you need a proper plan with the person – they have to feel understood; they have to know they’ll get the help they need and then we can make agreements.  It takes time and some failures along the way.  It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best we’ve got.” 

In Rochdale, like hundreds of other places across the country, the Covid-restrictions have created new challenges in town centres affecting businesses, shoppers and the council. What’s different in Rochdale is that as Covid struck we became the first council in the country to implement a comprehensive Good Help strategy. Not, you might think, the ideal moment to embark on a major process of public service systems change; but actually, it turns out it probably was. Here’s seven reasons why.

1. It just works and people want to do it

Perhaps the thing that’s surprised me most is people’s commitment to Good Help meetings. When nobody is taking their leave and things have to be cancelled to make way for Covid priorities and resources have never been so stretched, people still turn up for all the Good Help Zoom meetings and calls. I think it’s because it’s hopeful and obviously an effective approach. It feels really easy for me to get in touch with people and say “I’m doing this project about Good Help, you’re doing Good Help can I talk to you about it?” People just say yes, because very often we want to help them do more of what they really want to do.

Good help reminds us why we choose to work in public service in the first place

For so many of us Covid has crystalised our understanding of what inequality really means; and that’s the reason we first chose to work for the public sector, because we care. Covid gave us a shared objective to tackle inequalities and Good Help provided us with a way of achieving it.

3. It’s about systems change with none of the nonsense

A lot of systems change consultants seem to make a living by telling people like me what we already know, but in a really lofty way. It drives me crazy. The work itself can often feel burdensome, as you have to follow one or another model of systems change. Good Help is the opposite; it uses language that everyone understands, you do the work and it supports the system change. It cuts to the chase of how we want to improve people’s lives.

4. It’s Hopeful and liberates staff

A lot of the time Good Help is about putting the instinctive stuff back in, and so it liberates people. It requires frontline staff to be free to offer tailored support. Support which listens to where people really are, as Mark was explaining to local businesses above. Good Help has also given us a simple but specific shared language and goal. And as Mark will tell you, we’re none of us afraid of hard work and delivering Good Help is just better than delivering bad help. Listening to people, winning their trust, trying to help them find a new life path is rewarding, joyful and energising. Very different from simply ‘managing people’ or ‘enforcing rules’.

5. We’re gathering evidence of what works

Through our fidelity, quality and impact evaluation model we’re starting to gather evidence of what is and isn’t working. Not having to focus on pre-determined targets is a relief; just instead focussing on:

  • Fidelity: making sure that the service design matches proven practice
  • Quality of delivery: looking at how well the service is being run (e.g. net promoter score)
  • Impact: what community members tell us about the difference we’re making to their lives.

Cheap, easy and we’re already doing it

So far this has been an incredibly lean programme of change; requiring minimal external support from the Good Help team and simply supporting people to get on with stuff they already want to do. Because Good Help focuses on making people independent and avoiding waste, we can already start to see how this relieves the burden on service systems.

7. Generates solidarity between the staff

Good Help is a really easy way of bringing people together. We’re not telling anyone they’re doing something wrong so nobody needs to be on the defensive. Because of this it’s generated solidarity between people working on different parts of the service system who often don’t feel connected, which has been especially important this year when many of us have been stuck in our bedrooms and lofts; it doesn’t replace normal face-to-face meetings but it has helped us feel much more connected than we would otherwise.


Helen Chicot is the Place Lead for the Place Team in Rochdale Borough Council.


For more detail about the process underway in Rochdale, see Good Help in Rochdale: The Process Explained. For more information about becoming a Good Help place, please get in touch.

Helen Chicot