Helping Durham drink more healthily through Dry January

Sean Barry, Public Health Practitioner, Durham County Council | January 2019 | 8 minutes

This year more Dry January signups were driven by Durham County Council than any other Local Authority. What did They do that made such a big difference?

We’ve had a lot of success in Durham County Council this year signing our staff up to Dry January. Why was the campaign so successful? Well, it could be our planning, or our enthusiasm, or our committed and informed staff. Let me share with you what we’ve done to try to figure out what made the campaign work so well.

As a council we have always supported the Dry January campaign, however this year we aligned our activity with better health at work. This meant that myself and Jane, our Better Health at Work Project Officer, became a double act encouraging our staff to sign up and participate in Dry January. We also worked closely with Lynsey in our Corporate Comms team, making sure we got as much out of our external and internal communication as we could.

Meeting up with Jane and Lynsey we agreed two main aims: develop a process to sign up as many people as we could (we’re not competitive at all) and have as many meaningful discussions about alcohol as possible. We know not everyone will sign up, but the campaign still provides an opportunity to start a conversation about personal alcohol consumption and health-related harm.

One of our main ideas was to hold sign up events every day of the Dry January launch week in December across eight of our office and depot sites. Our strategy was engaging with people at the staff entrance in the morning and using the entrance to the canteen at lunchtime. These are the two highest footfall areas in most buildings.

Mornings worked better than lunchtimes at every site. I’ve learnt never to get in the way of people in need of food.

The other major thing we planned, and it really worked in our favour, was to create a basic sign-up sheet (name, email, postcode and consent) for people to fill in at our events - we registered them online later ourselves, and it’s not as time consuming as you may think.

We gave out Dry January leaflets along with an alcohol guidelines information sheet to everyone. Even the ones who said no, we gave them the handout, giving us the opportunity to engage.

Activities Collage

In fact, in locations such as the depots we had far more conversations than sign-ups. We guessed that this may happen, but sign-ups weren’t our only goal. Having an informal chat about alcohol, sowing that seed, might be the first step for someone in re-addressing their relationship with alcohol.

We also worked closely with regional colleagues – Balance, our regional alcohol office, encouraged staff to share their motivation for Dry January and a few are featured on their ‘Reduce my risk' website.

Our internal communications have kept the Dry January message visible for all staff. We had a member of staff do a vlog of their experience last year, and we shared it with all staff. The vlog was so good that it was re-edited to go out on our external social channels too. We have continued to engage with all those staff who signed up, encouraging them to download Try Dry: the Dry January app and take part in a range of alcohol-free activities. We've had posters up in the main walkway of our building for all to see.

We encouraged not only staff but also the general public to take on a Dry January. We worked with Balance to produce a regional press release for Dry January launch day with photos of people in the local area signing up. We’ve made use of the Dry January social media resources to promote sign ups through our social channels throughout the rest of December and into January. We also advertised Dry January on digital screens in our eight customer access points and in a digital space in the centre of Durham throughout December and the start of January. We have been able to use tour staff's stories to complement the social media resources to continue to promote Dry January.

We will sign off this year’s campaign with a shout out to everyone to ‘Try Dry’ throughout the year by having regular alcohol-free days each week. We’ve identified Tuesdays and Thursday as an easy way to remember, every day beginning with ‘T’. "Try Dry Tuesday and Thursday" has a good ring to it.

So, back to the beginning, what is the secret? For me, it’s having visible champions within the organisation, and continuing to share how we all are getting on. This has given a local element to the campaign which all of us have benefited from. Now to start the planning for next year.