How digital helps Alexandra Rose Charity supply food vouchers during COVID-19.
When the pandemic struck and demand for food vouchers increased, digital delivery proved more important than ever for Alexandra Rose, a charity whose mission is to give families access to fresh fruit & vegetables in their communities. In a blog article originally published in August 2020, we look at how they used digital to respond to the crisis.
The central objectives of ARC’s work during the pandemic has been to ensure that families can still receive Rose Vouchers - and that markets stay open so families have somewhere to spend the vouchers.
Alexandra Rose Charity (ARC) was established back in 1912 to support Londoners in poverty. With food poverty on the rise, and the charity’s remit UK-wide, the COVID-19 pandemic has given new impetus to the charity’s mission to support those in need - primarily through its ongoing Rose Vouchers for Fruit & Veg Project, giving families on low incomes the means to access fresh fruit and vegetables in their communities - and give the children in those families the healthiest possible start in challenging times.
With increased demand for vouchers, digital delivery has proved more important than ever, helping provide families with several weeks worth of vouchers in advance - and supporting traders on local markets to keep the project running smoothly.
The charity was already working on a tech-led project to increase reach, efficiency and impact. This began with the Rosie web app it first unveiled in 2017, which was supported by Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Tech for Good programme. Tech development (also funded by Comic Relief’s Tech for Good programme) taking place at the start of COVID-19 was designed to make the Rose Vouchers database more flexible.
“We have worked closely with markets teams to learn the status of markets, whether they were open or closed, or whether individual traders were still open,” explains ARC head of operations Faith Holland. “We’re also working very closely with delivery partner children's centres to ensure they have sufficient amounts of vouchers to give to families in bulk - up to eight weeks’ worth of vouchers at a time either face to face or by post.”
An ongoing key challenge for the charity has been to ensure ongoing funding for voucher costs to support the continuation and growth of its projects. It has aimed for continuing improvement and development of the scheme with monitoring and evaluation, framed by a five-year strategy, which set priorities to:
- Increase and demonstrate impact in existing projects in six locations around the UK - Barnsley, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth, Liverpool and Southwark, as well as in new areas across the UK
- Grow funding and develop a balanced, sustainable funding mix
- Strengthen the organisation, team and assets to deliver its work efficiently and effectively.
The charity’s strategy has also built in an aim to build strong partnerships that put local stakeholders in the lead and boost its profile to drive awareness, support fundraising and increase its advocacy power.
How the solution was reached
Digital tools in use
ARC’s existing tech has been crucial during the COVID-19 crisis. “We continue to use our trader reimbursement app so traders can record voucher numbers and request payment,” explains Holland. “Children's centres use the Rose Vouchers database to register new families and record voucher distribution. We are exploring the potential for changing from paper to digital vouchers.
“This is something that we were already thinking about - and COVID-19 has heightened the importance of this work,” she adds.
Support from ARC’s second Tech for Good grant in 2019 resulted in the Rose Vouchers database being developed to be flexible in terms of the amount of vouchers it calculates per area and by child’s age, she explains. “Should we need to increase the voucher amount per area and age group in response to COVID-19, the tech is flexible enough to manage this.”
Staff time has been a big commitment for ARC in working with tech partners and it has committed part of Holland’s role to being a product owner.
Software development has featured, primarily:
- The ‘Rosie’ web app used by traders to request reimbursement of vouchers.
- A database used by delivery partners to manage family recruitment, voucher distribution and overall project monitoring data.
- An admin portal for ARC staff to manage the creation, distribution and reimbursement of vouchers. Furthermore, to manage delivery partner user access.
“The systems are integrated so we can track the journey of a voucher from when it was printed, sent to a delivery partner, given to a family, payment requested, then reimbursed to a trader,” explains Holland.
In terms of overall impact, Rose Vouchers have benefitted over 3000 families since 2014, with £572,673 vouchers redeemed in local markets over that time. In addition, 32 children's centres have supported the project.
Digital has given the charity an opportunity to better understand the needs of users - including traders and children's centre delivery partners. It has improved monitoring data, offers opportunities for attracting new funders and different types of delivery partners, and importantly, helps the project to scale.
Efficiencies resulting from the digital switch have meant:
- Time-saving for administrators and significantly reduced levels of paperwork
- Time-saving and improved record keeping for traders requesting payments
- More time for delivery partners to talk with families and administrative time-saving
- Quicker access to data to help better manage the project.
“The new digital approach helps to record voucher distribution and spend - or redemption rate - which is important as we monitor engagement during the current crisis,” says Holland. “Plus the trader app allows traders to be paid quickly and easily which in turn supports cash flow.”
The two tech systems - for traders and children’s centres - are linked so the charity can monitor the voucher journey from distribution at a children's centre to requests for payment and reimbursement.
Things to watch out for
“In a time of a crisis, priorities change and time can be limited - so having a user-friendly system where delivery partners are confident in how to use it, is really important,” says Holland. “It’s also important to have a simple, straightforward system that captures the essential data you need.”
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