Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action/ Team Kinetic

Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action/ Team Kinetic

St Helens Together Volunteer Portal

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

St Helens Together is the name of the collaborative community response programme of residents, businesses, public services and voluntary and community groups across the Borough working together to improve outcomes for people. One of the key foundations of St Helens Together is the Volunteer portal. This was implemented through a partnership consisting of Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, Volunteer Centre Halton and St Helens, Team Kinetic and St Helens Borough Council. Before COVID 19 the Borough had been impacted by austerity and changes within local partnerships had impacted work between sectors and across organisational boundaries. In 2018 St Helens was the Liverpool City Region Borough of Culture and a focused programme was implemented to bring the community together through arts and cultural activities. This programme brought forward new volunteers. The year also brought about a new appointment within St Helens Council and new governance structures, enabling a focused period of strategy development between the council and the voluntary, community and faith sector.

Within the emerging revised Voluntary Sector Strategy volunteers and the development of volunteering opportunities where identified as key development areas. Although there was a Volunteer Centre in St Helens and an active infrastructure organisation, there had been a reduction of investment in the sector and therefore volunteers were recruited and managed according to individual group and project needs. In 2019 it was announced that St Helens was a host venue for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. This gave a further incentive to invest in an ambitious, innovative, cross organisational place-based volunteering system. Team Kinetic were identified as a private sector partner to the partnership, due to their reputation of supporting volunteers at the Commonwealth games and their national work with a number of public sector organisations and partnerships.

The aims of the development of the volunteer portal were to increase engagement with volunteering, to support organisations more efficiently with the recruitment and management of volunteers, to provide greater flexibility, support, reward and recognition to volunteers, and to have a system that would offer business intelligence and greater insight into volunteers across the Borough. The overall objectives of the programme were to support new volunteers in St Helens, from younger people looking for initial experience for their personal development, to people interested in changes of career or experiencing a change in circumstances, to retired people wanting to spend some hours serving the community. The desired outcome was to support peoples health and wellbeing and to enhance the local employment and skills pathway. The Team Kinetic Volunteer portal was commissioned at the end of 2019 and was implemented at the start of 2020. The system was ready for user testing in March 2020 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to the need to rapidly coordinate mutual aid groups, individual volunteers, businesses donating resources and the voluntary and community sector, the user testing of the portal was accelerated and the system went live on 18th March 2020. The portal brought all of the offers of support together in an efficient, safe and effective way. Volunteers were able to register on the portal. Organisations were able to add particular opportunities to the portal, for example for volunteers to support the foodbank, and for people to make wellbeing telephone calls to isolated residents. The role of Street Champion was created for community volunteers. An electronic referral pathway was created between the St Helens Together helpline and Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, so if a resident telephoned the helpline needing support with tasks such as buying a loaf of bread, a pint of milk, or their needing their dog walking, the referral seamless transferred to the voluntary sector, the portal supported matching the task with a local volunteer and the person was supported.

The Volunteer portal was able to create identification cards, with helped with the safety and security of residents during lockdown as the card had a photograph of the individual and confirmed if the individual had had their identification verified, and if they had been DBS checked. A Community Task Dashboard was implemented, allowing an overview of all tasks and their status. A few months into the operation of the portal, Team Kinetic requested that St Helens be a national pilot area for the “I Can Help” app. The app was an innovative and effective way that volunteers could pick up tasks in their area. The partnership developed over the 2 years of the programme has led to greater collaboration and partnership working right across the Borough. This provided an advantage at the outset of the pandemic when there was a huge need for collaboration and efficiency.

What are the key achievements?

The key achievements of the implementation of the St Helens Together Volunteer portal have been that 1,744 volunteers have registered and together they have offered 8,688 volunteer hours. The economic value of the volunteer support offered total £80,798 (calculated at the UK Living Wage) during the first six months of the programme. Twenty different voluntary and community sector groups have used the place-based volunteering portal. Most importantly 32,993 people have been supported. The volunteers have managed 37,339 food related tasks, including delivering food parcels, preparation and delivery of hot and cold meals, assembly and delivery of packed lunches and shopping tasks. 16,161 telephone calls have been made to support people feeling lonely and isolated.3,675 tasks have been completed in relation to support around employment and the impact of unemployment.

To date the portal has mainly been used to support the community response to the coronavirus pandemic. This has had a major impact on our ability to provide co-ordinated, efficient, and effective support to people. Volunteering already has a higher profile across the borough of St Helens and people are clear as to where to register, and organisations know that there is one place where they can advertise their opportunities for volunteers. The programme had also had a wider social impact. The registered volunteers have reported how the programme has given them a sense of purpose and have brought people together to support their communities.

Here are some examples of the feedback that has been received from the volunteers;

“I have completed six tasks for various vulnerable and self isolating older people. I have to admit I have been extremely humbled by the experience. It has certainly opened my eyes to just how many folks in our community need our help, care and support at this very difficult and stressful time for all of us. I am happy to be able to help out in this way and continue volunteering for as long as possible. It’s a wonderful feel good experience which for me is an absolute pleasure to be involved in.”

“I find it easy to pick up tasks that are suitable to me. The app is great.”

“Great way of linking volunteers with the community.”

“Using the I Can Help App is easy and efficient. Really happy to be helping others and making use of my spare time.”

What are the key learning points?

The key learning points to date cover five main areas:
– Relationships and trust
– A good business case
– Raising awareness with residents
– Ongoing engagement
– Celebrate success

The first key learning point was that leadership is essential to set the direction of travel, but also it is necessary to allow everyone in the partnership to have a role and play their part. Roles were allocated according to peoples skills and abilities. Team Kinetic brought their development skills in providing the technology and tools that they knew from experience would support the volunteers most effectively. The VCA and Volunteer Centre brought their knowledge of local community groups and organisations, and their connections with existing volunteers. Experience of engaging with volunteers also offered support with marketing of the portal and understanding of what barriers people may face when volunteering and how they could be overcome. The council contributed not only the investment but the wider place-based leadership role, connecting the volunteer portal and the partnership into the wider Borough priorities. A successful partnership required good working relationships and trust. Every aspect of the process had to be explained in clear and simple language so that everyone understood the system and how it would operate. No question was a silly question to ask, it was important that everyone had the time and space to fully understand and to explore any potential risks and issues.

The business case had to show the value generated by the programme. This was calculated primarily by looking at the cost of investment into the portal and the administration of the portal, against the return generated by the volunteering hours. This was challenging as actual cash investment was required to the project, whereas the cost savings generated are calculated on the basis of what a paid worker would have been paid to do the task if the volunteer had not been in place. This aspect of the case has greatly exceeded estimates. Benefits have been generated in the first 6 months of the programme which have more than tripled the cost of the initial investment. A key learning point is to consider all of the benefits that the programme will generate and ensure that these are monitored throughout implementation. This ensures that evaluation reports can highlight that the programme was worthwhile. This has also been supported by qualitative feedback left by volunteers. Podcasts have also been recorded by volunteers. The words of the volunteers themselves have been very powerful in highlighting the success of the programme. E.g. one volunteer discussed the impact of furlough of her mental health, and how the programme had given her a much needed focus and routine and had a positive impact on her health and wellbeing. This benefit was not foreseen at the outset of the programme but the recording of the case study has supported knowledge of the wider benefits of the programme.

It was importance to raise awareness of the portal with residents, so that they would come forward to volunteer and also so that tasks were brought forward for the volunteers to support with. The usual channels of social media, digital media and the local newspaper were used to advertise “St Helens Together”. However we were aware that some residents are digitally excluded and some areas of the borough did not receive the local newspaper. During the initial lockdown the Borough libraries were also closed, which meant these venues could not be used to support marketing and communications. A solution was needed for a communication channel to reach as many people as possible across the borough. The solution created was a large sticker that was attached to residents bins. These were stuck to bins by council staff. This proved to be a successful communication channel, with many of the volunteers stating that seeing the sticker is where they found out about the programme. We also shared the sticker template with a neighbouring local authority.

A further learning point has been the ongoing engagement with volunteers. They have been able to feedback on the tasks they have undertaken and any queries and concerns. Regular communications have been sent out to registered volunteers, particularly during the pandemic around updated government guidance, and issues such as cash handling. This has allowed us to deal with challenges and tailor the system to further support volunteer needs. In June 2020, in conjunction with national volunteers week, the success of the first months of the programme were celebrated. A postcard was sent out to each registered volunteer to thank them for their contributions. An online volunteers celebration event was held. Volunteers came together, shared their experiences and met others. This small scale, easy to organise event was very well received and meant a lot to everyone involved in the programme.

Additional Comments

The concept of the place-based volunteering portal was originally to support the 2021 Rugby World cup. The system has been implemented, developed and a supplementary app developed a year in advance of the event. The system will provide an ongoing legacy of St Helens Together and is hoped will go from strength to strength as a one stop shop for volunteers. Community groups and individuals are already starting to use the portal for other purposes, such as to organise community litter picks.

COVID-19 Response Recognition Award

The St Helens Together Volunteer portal has provided a focus and foundation to the wider community response to the coronavirus pandemic. It has provided an infrastructure and efficient organisation which has helped us channel help and support to where it is most needed. As the programme has been linked to the integrated health and social care system in St Helens, it now provides a permanent link between statutory services and community groups and organisations and individual volunteers. This now offers the opportunity for residents to experience a truly collaborative system. The programme has had a significant impact on supporting local residents through the pandemic. 32, 993 people have been supported by volunteers who registered on the portal to support others. This includes new volunteers that have come forward, and has raised more awareness of social issues impacting communities across the borough of St Helens.

The portal and the App, have shown how volunteers and community tasks can be managed more efficiently through a collaborative, digital approach. This has made it much quicker to recruit volunteers, to raise awareness of tasks that people need supporting with and to gain intelligence. It has also supported volunteers that had not previously used Apps the opportunity to increase their digital skills. The programme has broken down organisational and sector boundaries as it has brought everyone together with a common purpose. Volunteers have come from very different backgrounds and have very different demographics. They have reported that they have greater levels of empathy with others and feel a sense of belonging to their communities. Therefore a greater level of community cohesion, tolerance and kindness has been achieved. The difference that has been made by the programme to the lives of people adversely affected by COVID-19 can best be summarised by those people themselves.

The following quotes have been received from residents who have benefited from St Helens Together;
“I can’t thank you all enough for all your support and advice”
“It’s really good of you to ring me, it restores my faith in human nature that we have not just been forgotten, I really do appreciate it.”
“No matter what we are going through you are always there.”

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