Since COVID-19 arrived on UK shores, Catalyst has been on the look-out for the innovative ways charities are using digital technology to help meet the major challenges they face.

Since COVID-19 arrived on UK shores, Catalyst has been on the look-out for the innovative ways charities are using digital technology to help meet the major challenges they face. We have already listed the top 10 digital challenges facing the sector overall. Here, we look at the responses of 10 individual UK charities to their challenges — across services, community, operations and content.


ENABLE Scotland is available to help all young people in Scotland with additional support needs

ENABLE Scotland — ‘stepping up’ online support for learning difficulties

To continue its work helping people with learning difficulties find work and develop their skills under COVID-19, ENABLE Scotland has switched all of its support to remote via phone and online. Schools are a key focus of the charity’s ENABLE Works programme — and in response to the pandemic it has launched Stepping Up LIVE, offering individual support and guidance, remotely via video or phone, to all young people with additional support needs in the senior phase of school, anywhere in Scotland.

Action for Children — moving 1–1 family support services online

COVID-19 has meant a fundamental and rapid shift in the way AfC supports vulnerable young people and their families, from face to face to expanded online and phone services. The rollout of its 1–1 TALK online chat service has been brought forward, training five-10 family support staff every week to scale and meet demand. The topic of incoming advice requests has shifted to practicalities like food deliveries and emergency funds for parents. AfC has launched an emergency coronavirus appeal for donations, updated COVID-19 online content and published a blog setting out its digital approach.

Wednesday’s Child — new routes to frontline support for eating disorders

Eating disorder non-profit Wednesday’s Child has seen a surge in demand for help from people and families facing eating problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown. The Suffolk-based social enterprise has fast-tracked plans for a range of new frontline touchpoints. Central to this has been the launch of a new essential telephone helpline service, staffed by handlers with experience and insights, alongside remote support with bookable coaching appointments for live counselling and support via Zoom. Wednesday’s Child is backed in this effort by local firm DPS Technology. It has also published a new guide to coronavirus and eating disorders.


BANES 3SG — connecting a new grassroots ‘compassionate community’

Bath and North East Somerset Third Sector Group is co-ordinating a new grassroots community of local charities, residents, students and businesses. Its Compassionate Community online hub meets rising demand in hard times through mutual support. A new Sustainable Food Partnership lists local food providers who are able to support people unable to leave their homes or access online deliveries, including through hyperlocal ‘street champions’. The initiative has swiftly helped unlock infrastructure for a phone system, thanks to a new partnership with Virgin Health and the local authority. The Compassionate Community initiative was already growing when COVID-19 arrived, allowing the swift formation of partnerships. Over 1,000 new ‘compassionate community connectors’ had joined by mid-April, taking the total to 2,500 alongside 60 local and regional organisations. 3SG has one paid staff member and six volunteers to cope with the surge in demand.

GROWing Links — using social to coordinate getting food to the vulnerable

Penzance-based food charity GROWing Links has faced a big rise in demand for its voluntary Street Food Project service providing food to vulnerable people in the community. The charity has had to rethink the way it distributes food in towns, villages and rural locations, moving from collection and communal eating – too risky right now – to delivering hot food, shopping and weekly food bags via small groups across the local area. A key challenge is paying for much-needed volunteer PPE. The street food service is coordinated via WhatsApp and text, as well as on Facebook. Zoom and HouseParty work for meetings, Crowdfunder for core costs, JustGiving for fundraising and Google Docs shares food delivery lists. “Try to get over the fear of not knowing how these things work,” advises co-ordinator Lynne Dyer. “Sitting and just working things out at a very basic level has been essential to us delivering food to 230 people a week.”


Devon Air Ambulance Trust — transforming the way it works for good

Devon Air Ambulance Trust is dedicated to providing the best clinical care to sick and injured patients in and around Devon — with two air ambulances at the heart of its work. COVID-19 presents operational challenges, but the crisis has focussed minds, with almost all digital tools now cloud-based, with documents in team channels. Microsoft Teams is now the default workspace, while Centrik manages air operations, SAGE200 and SAP Concur running finance and MFA increasing security. MiFi overcomes poor connectivity in rural areas. “In many ways the situation has given us the opportunity to transform the way we work for the good,” says DAAT chief executive Heléna Holt.

If she were to offer one piece of advice, it would be: “Be human, not heroic! It’s OK to have bad days and be honest about it — it gives other people licence to admit when they are having a bad time.”

Wales Co-operative Centre — using Lifesize to recruit new staff remotely

Non-profit Wales Co-operative Centre is continuing its work to support social businesses with digital skills development, delivering contracted work as it can with a switch to remote-only during COVID-19. Staff have been equipped with the tech — Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Lifesize — with the latter used to recruit three new posts completely digitally. All applications and tasks were conducted online and interviews were held virtually via the app. WCC is also keeping its activities visible via social and other digital platforms. “We need people to know that we are still open for business,” says director of external engagement Karen Lewis.

Scottish Book Trust — Lucidchart brainstorm and a weekly update film

Scottish Book Trust is managing communication flows across its teams to ensure continued collaboration and flexible ways of working. Slack, Zoom and Basecamp have been crucial to this effort. SBT chief exec Marc Lambert produces a weekly update film to all staff, thanking them for hard work in challenging circumstances, and there are Zoom coffee breaks too. “We’re continuing to try out new technology — a colleague set up a team brainstorm in Lucidchart (with virtual post-its), which has enabled us to work collaboratively in remote settings,” says SBT’s Sarah Bailey. The trust is continuing its work to bring the benefits of reading and writing to everyone in Scotland, adapting content, switching event programmes to online and reviewing the charity’s existing digital festival, part of its annual Book Week Scotland. ​

Centre for Crime and Justice Studies — using COVID to refocus and rethink

Educational charity CCJS does not deliver front-line services, so its key challenges relate to financial and physical processes. With most work migrated to remote-only, staff have had to adapt quickly to home working, using Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams for remote collaboration. Staff confidence in tech and at-home set-ups does vary. Meeting online first thing each day is “a good way of getting everyone in a work frame of mind”, suggests chief executive Richard Garside. “We’re using the current crisis as a way of refocusing and rethinking what we do as an organisation in a way that has been good for us, despite the overall disruption.” CCJS has also published a raft of expert online content related to coronavirus in prisons.

Content and resources

NCT course leaders continue to provide essential information about pregnancy, birth and newborn early days

NCT — antenatal courses go virtual with specialist virus support

Parental support charity NCT has run over 1,000 virtual antenatal courses on Zoom since the outbreak began, supporting expectant families on a weekly basis. It has also enhanced other support services, setting up a specialised team to handle virus queries, and stepped up content updates to keep parents informed. “Our new courses are interactive, engaging and social and provide an essential lifeline in these worrying times,” NCT chief executive Angela McConville says. “Our experienced course leaders continue to provide essential evidence-based information about pregnancy, birth and the early days with a newborn. They’re still local so to also enable new mums and dads to build a community support network of other parents having a baby at the same time.”

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