CPLPortfolio Guidebook

, "24":"Online engagement In this feature l web chats l bespoke advice l sharing experiences Need to talk? During this time of austerity, community outreach activities such as live web chats should not be neglected. Rachel Tapp presents the pros and cons of this approach typing S ince February 2014, West Yorkshire Trading Standards (WYTS) has been taking part in hour-long web chats on topics ranging from metal theft and loan sharks to rogue traders in an attempt to communicate with different audiences. We were approached by West Yorkshire Police, which runs the web chats on a monthly basis, to become one of many partners invited to take part in a range of crime-related discussions. WYTS, for example, participated in an evening web chat as part of Scams Awareness Month, giving advice to concerned members of the public, answering queries, and referring them to the right people. A new approach Before getting involved with the web chats, WYTS was already very active in outreach activities, believing that prevention measures twinned with enforcement can bring about real and effective change for local people and their communities. A number of education programmes, designed for people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances, are delivered across the region, to reach directly those who are vulnerable to doorstep crime, cold callers, niche tobacco, and unhealthy diets. However, the service feels that a strong online presence is also needed, because it is unrealistic to expect that everyone can seek help face to face. WYTS already runs Facebook and Twitter accounts, but the web chats were another means of providing people with expert help, in the comfort of their own homes. How effective have these chats been? The scams web chat proved to be popular. The people taking part were able to discuss their concerns with officers, covering specific medication and prize-draw scams they had encountered, cold callers, telephone blocking systems and why vulnerable people are targeted by fraudsters. Not only could members of the public receive bespoke advice and information on other agencies such as Citizens Advice and Action Fraud that can help with their situation, but they were also able to interact with each other, passing on their experiences and adding to the benefits of running the web chat. Officers could also promote education programmes, such as the Scams and Fraud Education for Residents (Safer) project in Bradford and Leeds, highlighting the Spot it, Bin it! scheme, whereby people could drop off their scam mail at disposal points across the districts. After the scams web chat, Safer project officers were contacted by people including a social worker wanting to find out more about the training workshops that the initiative offered. All have now received an information pack. As a direct result of the web chats in which the service has been involved, 18 West Yorkshire residents have come forward for help. However, the number of people who have received assistance as a result of the web chats is thought to be much higher, with many visiting the West Yorkshire Police website to read about the surgeries after they had taken place. The key advantage of a web chat is its accessibility: it appeals to those who would otherwise not have engaged with us or reported their concerns Another string I NTERNET EX AMPLES The web chats are available to read here so that members of the public can learn about each issue even after the events are over. The key advantage of a web chat is its accessibility; it appeals to those who would otherwise not have engaged with WYTS or reported their concerns. However, it can be argued that the nature of a web chat may exclude certain groups of people; there is, after all, the requirement to have access to a computer, connected to the internet something many do not have. But it must be remembered that this is just one string to WYTSs prevention bow. The education programmes have been set up after careful consultation, and after examining intelligence to find out where work is most needed. They are based on the type of crime being tackled, and targeted at those who are most prone to fall victim to it. In addition to being out on the ground in the communities it seeks to serve, WYTS works in close partnership with a number of different front-line organisations, which can pass on information and signpost opportunities to their service users. Having an online presence allows that net to be cast ever wider in an attempt to communicate with those people who would otherwise be out of reach. Although 18 people engaged with our officers through this medium in 2014, the real figure for those who have been helped by the web chats, through the passing on of information, is likely to be much higher. This may not sound as impressive as educating the 4,300 elderly residents that the Safer project has reached over the past two years, but these are still individuals who are dealing with the very real misery that scams can bring and who have now been given the tools to get the best help to solve their situations. If one hour of an officers time on a Wednesday evening can bring about this direct change, then web chats are well worth considering. They have helped individual members of the public, while also aligning with the priorities of WYTS especially our goal of working towards safer and stronger communities. Credits Published Rachel Tappis financial capability officer for Tuesday 6 January 2015 West Yorkshire Trading Standards. 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