Everything you need to know about Census 2021 in Norfolk

Census 2021 engagement manager Kerry Skelding

Census 2021 engagement manager Kerry Skelding - Credit: Submitted

In nine weeks time a vital snapshot of the UK will be taken. Nick Richards spoke to the people in charge of making Census 2021 runs smoothly in Norfolk

Your 2021 calendar may look a little sparse on the events front, but there’s one big date in March that will be recorded in history. That’s because on March 21, data collected from millions of people in England and Wales will form Census 2021.

A census has been held every decade since 1801 except in 1941 because of the Second World War. A mini census was held in 1939 so that everyone could be issued with a National Identity Card.

The first thorough survey of England was in 1086 when William the Conqueror ordered a detailed list of land and property known as The Domesday Book.

But since then much has changed and this year there are new questions on the armed forces and gender identity and, for the first time, the onus is on getting people to fill it in online.

Norfolk’s two census engagement managers are Kerry Skelding, who is responsible for Norwich, Broadland, South Norfolk and Great Yarmouth and Paul Walmsley, who is responsible for King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk and Breckland. Their roles are to engage with local authorities and organisations to identify where certain communities may need extra support to complete the census.

Both were involved in the 2011 census and have been in position since last September, helping to spread the message about the big survey that takes place every 10 years.

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When is it?
Census Day is March 21. From the start of March until May 3 you will need to record the answers to the census questions with the information as it stands on March 21. It can be done before March 21 or after, until May 3. The form should take around 10 minutes to fill 

Why is it so important?
Data is used to help not only local authorities but organisations like charities and not-for-profit organisations to help evidence funding bids and the need for support services.

Paul said: “How do we know who’s out there and what’s going on? Say the census data throws up that in a particular area there’s 300 two year old children, you’ll be pretty certain that you’d need some first school education in three years time.

Paul Walmsley

Census 2021 engagement manager Paul Walmsley - Credit: Submitted

“Our data from 2011 showed that north Norfolk has one of the largest elderly populations in England and Wales. There are other bits of info flying around, but to be able to take a whole snapshot is almost impossible without a census. 

“For example, how many people have a car? Where do people live? Do we need new bus routes or doctor’s surgeries? Should we put a police station here or there?

“The census data goes everywhere. For example, I was talking to a chairman of a parish council recently and he said he was happy to help as he’d used census data from 2011 to put in a successful bid for playing fields and a football ground which he’d done in 2012 or 2013.”

Why isn’t Scotland taking part?
Scotland had a census rehearsal in October 2019, along with other countries in the UK. Scotland has decided to move their next census to March 2022 due to the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, and to try to maximise response rates.

How do I fill it in?
Kerry said: “Things have moved on in huge leaps and bounds since the last census. In 2011, 75% of people filled in their form on paper and 25% online, this time we are aiming for it to be the other way round. 

“Around February 22 people will start to get information posted to their homes followed up by a pack. For the majority of people that pack will be a letter with a code on which will allow them to, from March 1, complete it on a computer, tablet or a mobile. 

“If you get a code and you can’t fill it in online or don’t want to fill it in online, there will be a freephone telephone number where people can ask for a paper copy or for things that will support them if they need extra help – for example, people who are visually impaired or may require information to be translated.

Norwich postman Laurence Bury sorting Census forms ready for delivery from the Roundtree Way Royal M

Norwich postman Laurence Bury sorting Census forms ready for delivery in 2011. This time it is hoped 75% of the forms will be completed online - Credit: Archant

“Some parts of Norfolk will get a paper questionnaire automatically because we’ve identified areas which have predominantly older people or where there’s a digital shortfall. But they can still log on and do it online.”

Will my data be protected?
Paul said: “The data is extracted and then stored. Nothing will ever be published that can lead to identification of people individually. But you will learn that there are, for example, 20,000 under-5s in Norwich and 8,000 in King’s Lynn.”

Can I see the census results?
Paul said: “No. Although details of trends and top line data will emerge in 12 months time, specific information is not made available to the general public for 100 years. Interestingly, in around five weeks, for the first time we’ll be able to get information form the 1921 census which has sparked interest among many historians who will finally get to build up a better picture of life a couple of year after the First World War ended amid an era of Suffragettes.”

Remembrance Day commemorations in Norwich

A new question in Census 2021 will focus on military history - Credit: Archant

What have we learned from the past?
Kerry said: “Over the years questions have changed. In 2011 questions were introduced around civil partnerships. Between 1951-1991 households were asked if they had an outside toilet. 

“Some of the answers from years ago would seem strange today. In 1911 a family in London listed Roger the watchdog among their household. A family in Birkenhead included an eight year old cat whose occupation was mouse catcher. 

“All sorts of professions have been on the census. In 1851 we had a bee dealer, 19 men and one woman put their profession as peg maker. Eight men and one woman put their occupation as artificial eye maker.

“That year there were only 734 female midwives - whereas the 2011 census recorded a total of 30,925 female midwives and 330 who were men, a total of 31,255.”

What’s different this year?
Paul explained: “This year for the first time we’ve got a question on veterans. Not all veterans are contactable by the British Legion. Not all veterans identify as veterans, so we’re giving them a chance to let us know. If there are grants needed for veterans, or if there are support services needed for veterans we’ll be able to get an accurate number, so if the British Legion, for example, wants to put a case forward to build a new centre, the one bit of data they can rely on is this ONS data.”

Norwich Pride 2019

People taking part in Norwich Pride 2019. This year's census will include voluntary questions of gender identity and sexual orientation - Credit: Archant

Kerry added: “Not everybody is able to answer the census in the way they might have liked in the past. This year there are two new questions, partly because there isn’t any robust data on gender identity so one of the new questions is asking people which gender they identify with. That’s a voluntary question for people over 16. The other one is about sexual identity/orientation. They are important so organisations can provide the services and support functions that may be needed.”

What if I want to put my religion as Jedi?
You may recall in the 2001 census an online movement emerged where people claimed their religion was Jedi, from the Star Wars films. 

Paul explained that all answers recorded are taken seriously, whatever they may be.

At the King's Lynn Arts Centre for the Stars Wars exhibition were (from left) Jango Fett, Darth Maul

Star Wars fans in King's Lynn. In the last two recordings of the census a number of people have answered their religion as Jedi - Credit: IAN BURT

“There was a big drop off in Jedis between 2001 and 2011,” he joked. “They halved in number from 370,000 to 180,000. We ask people to fill it in honestly - so there were 99.9% of people that didn’t put Jedi but if they record it as their religion then that is what we put. Lots of the questions are factual questions, but on questions like that, we do record the answers people put. It really is a snapshot of life on March 21, 2021.”

How can I get more involved?

Kerry said: “There are several roles available, which are all Covid safe. Some are home-based and going out and speaking to people and local people are perfect for these. They are temporary and fairly well paid and look great on your CV.

Schools programme:
Kerry added: “We understand fully at the moment that things are really quite difficult for schools. If they sign up for the schools programme there are ready made resources that are curriculum specific that have ideal activities for them to get involved in.
www.letscount.org.uk - the address for the primary school programme
www.censuseducation.org.uk - the address for the secondary school programme

Other Links
Follow @Census2021 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
www.census.gov.uk is the main Census 2021 website