Description of the service provided
Medway Council has combined libraries with customer contact services to provide 4 community hubs. These hubs provide the existing library service but now also offer Medway residents the chance to ask questions face to face about other council services.
This service model was created out of a council initiative called Better for Less, with the aim of moving all level one enquiries (for basic information) from each council department to customer contact services. Taking away this basic level of contact results in the council service having more time to focus on more strategic, level two enquiries and work.
The hubs were part of this approach allowing residents to interact face to face with customer contact officers (a telephony equivalent is also offered).
For the library service, it meant that all level one library work (issue/discharge, joining and basic enquiries etc) is offered by customer contact services within the hubs. This allows library staff to focus on higher level (level two) enquiries, stock work and events and activities.
Another aim behind the hubs was to develop the use of these buildings by partners and groups within the community to hold surgeries, workshops and meetings etc. This has resulted in increased use by these groups . These groups include the health service, Stroke Association, Blue Badge assessment, deaf services, Victim Support and other local community groups that advise and provide support on subjects such as housing, careers, debt and training.
So far, 4 hubs have been created over the last 3 years. Three of these buildings were created by the modification of existing large town centre libraries and the most recent one was the replacement of an existing library with a refurbishment of a town centre building.
Feedback has been good, with footfall at the Strood community hub (which opened March 2015) being forecast for a 15% increase this year.
Medway are just completing a Generic Social Outcome survey (GSO) on the value of their hubs. Although the evaluation has not been completed, initial feedback has shown that evidence from the survey will be useful in making decisions about the hubs in future. One example is that it has shown that 70% of participants feel that having library and council services under one roof makes things easier for them. Most popular reasons are that it’s convenient, less travel time to different buildings and easier to access services.
Lessons learnt by Medway are:
to make sure IT systems can be integrated, identify this at an early stage and if they cannot, to have a plan B
identifying the resource to make the partnership work when bringing teams of staff together
to not underestimate the impact of change on the customer, services will need to work hard to bring them along which may take time
Medway’s future plans are to look at creating another community hub, subject to the right property being available. They also have started to create neighbourhood community hubs using their smaller branches. One has just been created and another building project just begun.