Photo credit: Terry Evans

Keeping in touch with branch members is essential in these unfamiliar times. The Communications Forum met virtually on Friday 5 February and we discussed good communications in the lockdown. Here are some of the ideas your branch could use.

Comms officers also volunteered their assistance to other branches:

  • On AGMs and the use of Eventbrite – Jonathan Perry, Coleg Gwent branch and Leonie Isaac, Neath Port Talbot branch are happy to help
  • Bulk emails using WARMs – Stephen Gardiner, Caerphilly branch is happy to help

If you would like their help contact Alastair Gittins

Celebrating good branch communications practice in lockdown

Here are more excellent examples of new or improved ways of communicating with UNISON members and potential members.

  • Produce a short video for your branch website and social media, encouraging your members to update their membership details. Mike Thomas, UNISON Bridgend County produced two amusing explainer videos to generate interest and improve contact.
  • Produce regular and attractive newsletters to stay in touch with members and show them how the branch is active. Here are Will Barton, Cardiff County branch’s newsletters (December 20 and June 20), which go out every two months, eight pages in length, with a common style and font. He obtains extra source material from the TUC and other organisations UNISON is affiliated to. Other Cardiff County newsletters are on the branch website. Sylwia Sikocinska (Newport City) also gave a brief update on her branch’s newsletters. Here’s Newport’s latest.
  • Get a link to your branch on the employer’s intranet. Jonathan Perry reported on the breakthrough his branch had achieved by being included on the Coleg Gwent intranet.
  • Drafting a good comms strategy results in increased connect with members and makes the employer take note. Marie Lancaster reported Cardiff Met branch has overhauled the production of newsletters and the branch website. They hold weekly member drop-ins via Teams; are now invited to speak to new staff at the induction and, like Coleg Gwent, UNISON is on the front page of the university’s intranet.
  • Creating a private Face Book group, allowed members to communicate about the very trying conditions they are working in during the pandemic, said Cheryl Thomas, Swansea Bay Healthcare branch. They gained hundreds and hundreds of new followers in just two months discussing PPE concerns and sickness on the wards. The branch also ran a 7-day a week telephone line for members in the first lockdown.


Ideas from the Communications Forum meeting on 9 October 2020:

Online branch meetings have improved WARMs info

Mel O’Connor, Welsh Ambulance branch, reported online meetings are great for all-Wales or geographically spread branches. Attendee numbers can increase (without the need for travel) and publicising that the branch is holding these meetings via branch social media and contact with colleagues, has meant membership data has been updated and improved.

Other ways to improve WARMs info: –

  • Hold a competition draw for members. To have a chance of winning a prize such as high street vouchers, you must provide your contact details.
  • Members of Aneurin Bevan branch must advise the branch of their contact details in order to get next year’s UNISON diary. When the branch receives any returned post for members, the individual is emailed and asked to update their address.


Caerphilly UNISON bus and newspaper advertising

Stephen Gardiner, Caerphilly, reported his branch had submitted a regional pool bid to allow for UNISON advertising on the side of local buses and on the front page of the local paper. Costs of advertising for eight weeks:

  • Six Stagecoach buses running out of Caerphilly depot with UNISON advertising on the side and back – £5,700
  • Front page advert on the Caerphilly Observer £500
  • Face Book boost £80

Have a look at photographs of the Caerphilly advertising here.

Bus photo 1; bus photo 2; bus photo 3 (slightly out of focus); Caerphilly Observer front page

The branch was assisted in formatting the adverts by UNISON Centre colleagues

Since starting on 14 September the FB boost means the post has been seen by 3,500 people and resulted in several new followers. Visibility of the branch is much higher locally and recruitment is improving.

The branch priced up advertising for every Stagecoach bus in Wales on 95% of routes and the cost would be £49k for an eight-week campaign.


Make a short film for your members/potential members

Powys health branch’s Alex Oakey made a film emphasising the importance of the need for healthcare workers to look after themselves to avoid burnout during the pandemic and encouraging members to take their annual leave.

Watch his film here and here are his ideas for a ‘holiday from home’.

Powys branch arranged for the film to play on TV monitors throughout the hospitals; it’s on the branch’s website and You Tube and has been watched by everyone from our porters to the chief executive.

Short films on your branch social media make an impact. Alex learnt his skills on courses sponsored by the UNISON Cymru Wales Communications Forum. Not feeling as ambitious him? No problem, here are some easier ways to make an impact with a film:

  • No-one is bothered if the videos are a bit rough and ready at this time. Why not record a branch officer speaking to camera about how public service workers have responded during the pandemic and how UNISON is supporting them.  Some branch comms officers have benefitted from the training on how to shoot and edit short films on a phone or IPad and editing with the free Quik app.
  • Other branch comms officers have benefitted from the training on how to make short explainer videos using Lumen 5 – a series of slides telling a story


Branch phone apps

Cwm Taf Morgannwg would like to develop a phone app for members and as we are not seeing as much of each other, technology is becoming more important to stay in touch.

  • Aneurin Bevan branch has had an app for three years and every six months has a campaign to make sure all members are engaged with it. The branch’s phone app is with Innovation IT Solutions and costs £890 a year for the App platform and maintenance.  Contact
  • Caerphilly branch recently published their phone app on Google Play and its publication on Apple is imminent. Caerphilly also use Innovative IT Solutions.
  • Powys health’s phone app costs the branch around £1k upkeep for a year


Launching a national social media group at British Gas

Emma Jones reports UNISON reps at British Gas decided they needed a way to communicate nationally as one with members when the company announced significant changes to contracts. This was especially important because reps were working from home and didn’t have the normal access to our members.

With the help and support of a UNISON Cymru Wales member of staff, Aimee Goodwin, the Gas branch set up a private members group on Facebook following the template Aimee initiated with Velindre branch.

UNISON National Gas Members pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram shared public posts and linked to a private Facebook group. Members have to answer 3 questions (full name, membership number, branch) and agree to the group rules before joining the private group and the branch checks they are current members before allowing them in.

In the group, reps are able to share more information but the primary function and where they have seen it be successful is it allows members to ask questions and start conversations about what is happening. All of the comms officers and some of the branch secretaries are admins, so the page is consistently monitored and it is used by hundreds of members.


Ideas from the Communications Forum meeting on 22 May 2020:

Pandemic as a recruitment opportunity

  • Where branches have publicised how they have stood-up to bad employers on PPE and other issues and why it pays to belong to UNISON, they have seen an increase in membership.
  • Another recruitment tool is to use how hard everyone has been working during the pandemic in tandem with explaining our local government pay claim.
  • Continue to update workplace notice boards where possible


Creative ways to engage with members

How can we ensure a UNISON presence in workplaces during the lockdown and how can we support our very busy key workers?

  • Branches have delivered chocolates; coffee and alcoholic hand gel to workplaces. Care workers have been asked to contact the branch if they would like a snack pack so there’s no need for them to go to the shops. This has allowed the branch to check and update membership details.
  • One branch distributed a quiz to all members to show it’s not only thinking of members in their work situation but it is also concerned about their mental well-being too. It plans to circulate some inspirational quotes. Here’s a Neath Port Talbot UNISON Weekend Quiz


Regularly updating social media

  • Photos of members going about their duties shows how hard they are working during the lockdown and go down really well
  • Short, positive profiling of branch officers/branch members
  • Sharing local UNISON ‘human’ stories – such as the branch chair who caught Covid-19 and wrote about the wonderful care he received
  • Advertising on Face Book – one branch paid £80 for an advert, reached 25,000 people and generated 1,500 new website visitors dramatically boosting membership
  • Show the welfare support available to members with a link to our There for You webpage


Distribute newsletters

  • Use a competition in newsletters as another way to update member contact details: win a voucher if you update details
  • A health branch ran a Tell us your NHS story competition to win a £50 voucher; the responses will form one newsletter


Pro-active phone contact

  • Calls to members who have indicated they can be contacted to check if they are receiving branch newsletters and emails has gone down well


Online conference tools

  • Some, geographically-wide branches have reported online conference-call meetings can help attendance because there is no need to drive anywhere
  • One branch has invested in a licence for the online meeting tool, Go-To-Meeting at a cost of £140 for a year



  • Whatsapp contact is quick and fun and can help keep UNISON officers and activists together



  • Record a short video of a branch officer speaking to camera and upload it to social media. Here’s one Gwynedd’s Matthew Cooling made for International Workers’ Day
  • Some branch comms officers have benefitted from the training on how to shoot and edit short films on a phone or IPad. No-one is bothered if the videos are a bit rough and ready at this time
  • Other branch comms officers have benefitted from the training on how to make short explainer videos using Lumen 5 – a series of slides telling a story


Other branch activities

  • Some branches have contacted local foodbanks and made financial donations