How can you run a campaign to defend a service?

Neath Port Talbot branch fought a successful campaign against library closures – so just how did they do it?

In January, UNISON’s Neath Port Talbot branch successfully campaigned against plans to close a local museum and libraries across the county, convincing the council to reject the proposals and keep the museum and libraries open. Read the full story here.

We asked Neath Port Talbot branch chair Mark Fisher to tell us more about how the campaign worked, his tips for success and lessons he learned for the future.

Why did you launch a campaign against library closures? 

We had the unfortunate but all-too-frequent proposal from the council to close our local community libraries and the last council run museum. Branch officers had feedback from our members on how devastating this would be for our local communities.

What campaigning activities did you do?

The campaign involved several strands:

  • we set up an online petition on and encouraged everyone to sign. Our petition emailed decision makers directly, which in this case meant the councillors who would be making the final decision on whether the closures went ahead. We produced campaign letters outlining the concerns and asked everyone to sign a letter each;
  • we spoke directly to councillors to explain how devastating the libraries closures would be for the communities; and
  • we issued press releases to tell people what the proposals were.
  • we organised a protest in front of our civic building with placards and lots of concerned people, at this we presented the signed campaign letters to the council.

How did you use the campaign to recruit and organise members? 

The whole campaign raised awareness of UNISON – not only to our members but out in the wider community. It was important that the community and our members knew that we were not just campaigning to help save members jobs – we also wanted to help support the communities that our members and their families live in and the services that we all use.

What tips do you have for other branches and activists who want to campaign against cuts to local services?

Make sure you aim the campaign at the decision makers – in our case, this was the elected councillors – and don’t waste time dealing with council officers. Try and campaign in a variety of ways, such as paper letters, online petitions, speaking to people and press releases.

Online petitions are brilliant and are really easy to set up. It gets the message right to those who need to hear what’s happening. When councillors can see how many residents are worried about cuts proposals, they seem to take note.

Why do you think the campaign was so successful?

Our campaign was successful, thanks to a team approach from the workers, branch and the public. We also engaged well with the elected council members, AMs and MPs in the areas that could be affected by potential closures.

The general public got right behind our campaign from the start. We communicated with the public in many ways about the campaign, using online and paper petitions, public meetings with service users, the local and national press and TV. We also used statistics and put in counter proposals to the cuts, including ways of using existing resources to benefit the services also improving income generation.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I would have engaged with the public sooner and set up a sub-group at the beginning to take this campaign forward.