Danielle Mills – Community Calling Podcast #3


Danielle is the Co-Founder of Community Calling alongside Sarah Scullion. The pair first came into contact on 28th March 2020 when Danielle submitted a support request after being advised to shield for 12 weeks.

After Danielle was matched with a local volunteer, she asked if there was anything she could do to provide support remotely. From that day, Danielle has been fundamental to the support provided by Community Calling. Danielle shares her story on the 3rd Community Calling Podcast…

Podcast (click here for transcription)

More about Community Calling

Community Calling was formed as a volunteer-led initiative to coordinate urgent community support across Northern Ireland in a crisis situation.
Our mission is to get the right support to the right people at the right time, without duplication.

Our vision is one of a connected and responsive community sector – embracing innovation and collaboration as a means to respond better to changing needs.

We have developed a platform which is already making this vision a reality. It is capable of matching community support requests with available support IN MINUTES.

This is achieved by using technology to transfer anonymous information, in real-time, to specific communication channels relevant to the support requested.

Hundreds of VCSE organisations and volunteers are already connecting and responding to the needs of the community and each other via Community Network NI which we officially launched this year.


Vanessa: Hi, everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of the Community Calling podcast. I am joined by the Co-Founder Danielle Mills. How are you, Danielle?

Danielle: I’m good, Vanessa, how are you?

Vanessa: I am good. I’m so excited to get to chat to you today about your journey with Community Calling.

Danielle: I know it’s been a strange one I have to say. A bit different.

Vanessa: Different is always good – I think.

Danielle: I know, I know. Um, yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind the past year. I would say for us.

A lot of people probably may or may not know I’m in the shielding grip. Well, obviously when the pandemic started, I was put into the shielding group.

I have rheumatoid arthritis. So, I take medication injections that would reduce my immune system. So that puts me in the clinically vulnerable group. The extremely vulnerable group, apparently.

So, I was told to shield for 12 weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, and at that stage, we didn’t know what was going on with COVID and we didn’t know what it was really. We all had to stay at home. My husband, my two kids who at the time were three and seven, and a dog, which was even worse. I wasn’t allowed to go out for walks or anything. My kids and my husband were, and they would have gone out later on at night time, you know, just around the block and to get better fresh air, but they weren’t interacting as anybody, you know. It was so strange like it was surreal.

So, I needed a volunteer because my mommy was doing my shopping and she is in her 60s and so is my dad. Mommy and daddy were picking up everything that I needed, but we’re a family of four and we needed big shops. You can’t expect your mom and dad to go in and get your shopping every week or whatever in a big shop.

And we didn’t know how serious this pandemic was going to be or how contagious it was. So, I was really searching on the internet, looking for somebody who could offer support to me and my family for you know, just doing shopping pickups and prescription pickups and things like that. So, I found Sarah’s site that she had set up in March at the time it was called COVID-19 community support.

So I found that and, Sarah Scullion found me my volunteer, Becky. Who was absolutely fantastic. She did our shopping until we could get, you know, like deliveries from Tescos and deliveries from the butchers and all that kind of stuff. And then I kind of felt really guilty that I was sitting at home. Not that I was doing nothing, but I had been working for a cognitive therapy center on the admin side. I’d begun that job. I was self-employed, but because of the pandemic, there was no work. So I was let go so that was a bit of a blow at the same time as being put into the shielding group. So yeah, it was great and good times.

But I offered to volunteer at home, just doing the admin. Just doing any admin tasks that Sarah needed to be done. She said she was working from home because she set it all up because her daughter had symptoms at the beginning, but she hadn’t really left the house after that.

So that’s how we started. And we continued to match support requests for individuals, with volunteers. We offered safeguarding training and we had funding. So we were able to set up a pilot, sorry, Sarah, I suppose, was able to set up a pilot for the community network, which is our support hub for the project. So that means that we can not only support people who are individuals who need support, but we are helping people who work in community groups, people who are charities, just anybody who really needs any kind of promotion or they need to call for volunteers, or, you know, just to get the word out of what they’re doing to help their organisations.

So it’s been really good. It’s been a different kind of year. I’m actually in a way grateful for COVID sounds like a stupid thing to say, but I think if COVID hadn’t have happened, I think I would not be in a job that I would now not like and I love working with everybody with all you guys.

I know we’re doing it on a voluntary basis at the minute, but I mean, it’s just been the most worthwhile thing. I think apart from having kids to get married, it’s been the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done in my life. You know, everything else that I’ve done.

Although I love my jobs, they have really been to the levels that I love this job. And I wouldn’t even say its job. You know, I don’t find it like a job. My husband has to say to me sometimes, Danielle, can you stop? Just like, can you set that laptop down? Or can you stop searching for things? So I’m a bit mental. Sure, mental is good!

Vanessa: What I love about you and Community Calling is that you are giving so much back and more from receiving support. And I really admire you for that. Especially with all your passion for helping people too. I just think it’s brilliant.

Danielle: Oh, thank you!

I know it’s been great to see it from both sides. So I got awesome support you know from somebody who was a person in a vulnerable situation, I suppose and seeing it from the other side. Helping so many people, helping so many organizations, being able to find out a lot more organizations because we do a lot of campaigns for organizations. As I said, who needs volunteers or they need donations and things like that. And it’s fine to note, you have to research those organizations before you are able to put a campaign out for them. So you find out everything about them, but you’re chatting to people and you’re finding out what they’ve been doing and what they’re planning to do.

And that’s lovely just to get to know what the VCSE sector is about. You know, I’ve never worked at it before. The cognitive therapy centre I worked for was private, you know, it wasn’t the same. So it’s great to see all these people who’ve all come together, especially now, and obviously in community network as well.

You know, we have so many organisations that are collaborating in there that they maybe wouldn’t have before that because they didn’t know that the other existed. So it’s, it’s been a worthwhile project. The pilot has been a really worthwhile project- the committee network one.

Vanessa: I think that through COVID, a lot of people who never would have reached out for support or never would have thought that they needed the support, have reached out to these organizations and have got the help.

I think, going forward due to the pandemic, it has highlighted these organisations and the work that they do. And it also means that if anyone did need help again, they would know where to go in future.

Danielle: For the individual side of things. I mean, we have people who have come forward to us and they’ve said ‘I would have been too embarrassed to come forward for support before’. But I think as well, because we use online forums they take two minutes to do. I think people find that the form’s really easy to do.

I’ve had organisations tell me that ‘your forums are so straightforward and so easy to do.’ And then they get the support then within a matter of days, whereas sometimes if you’re speaking to other sort of organisations that you have to be referred to, you know, it can take me a bit longer, because it goes through like a whole phone process, or whatever. But we’re matching people with organisations rather than giving them advice.

So it’s good that you find all these people that can give that advice to the people who need it, whether you know, specific advice for mental health or food parcels or whatever. It’s great to work alongside all those organisations.

It is very rewarding because by helping them, you’re helping so many other people. So it’s such, such a good feeling to know that the hard work you’re doing is going to someone else.

Vanessa: Out of everything that Community Calling does, what has been your passion?

Danielle: I think it’s just matching people with organisations that need support, you know, with other organisations that, as I said, would have maybe not been in touch before. It’s great to see that collaboration and get a sense of pride from actually doing that. 

And I think as well, people that maybe wouldn’t have come forward, maybe originally, you know, I’m talking about individuals instead of organisations – people that are coming forward and saying that they need help with food, but you can see from their forms that they have clicked on “mental health challenges”. So they’re not necessarily asking for help with mental health issues but when I’m replying to them, I always give them the opportunity, you know, if they need it and it’s totally up to them, whether they come back and say, oh, that’s a good idea.

We have organisations who have befriending services and they just give them a call once a day and it just makes sure they’re okay. And as well, we would have organizations for mental health that, you know, maybe deal with the more serious aspects of mental health, you know, suicide awareness and more severe elements go into therapy and concern.

Vanessa: It’s good to just have someone to talk to that’s kind of separate from people in your life too. I would always feel like if I ask someone for advice, sometimes it’s like the same thing and you’re like, no, I want to hear something different or someone’s outside perspectives. And I just get that.

You’re offering people that opportunity to get an I type. Perspective and just to chat to someone who they don’t know.

Danielle: I know it’s good. I mean, I’ve been through mental health support, you know, I’ve lived experience with postnatal depression, and I have really bad anxiety as well. And it’s quite controlled though, so I’m not too bad, but it’s only controlled because I actually did speak to somebody and I think it took so long, getting them through the NHS side of things.

You know, I waited for over a year and a half to get the space to speak to someone through my GP. Whereas there are people who are coming through, being linked with organizations. We’d link somebody with organisations that are usually within the same day and they’re getting to speak to somebody rather than two years later, there’s getting to speak to somebody in a matter of days.

And that can make a huge difference in your life. If I had somebody to talk to you, I don’t mean that things would be better, but I think I would have been happier in my head. At that stage, you know, so it’s great. It’s great to be able to link them and a lot faster than having to wait for the whole NHS side of things.

Vanessa: You know what it’s like to wait and you know how difficult it is. It’s great that you’re helping people along in that way too.

Danielle: Yeah, it’s great. It’s really rewarding and I’m glad that we can help so many people and so many organizations – it’s really important.

Although obviously, we’re working on a voluntary basis as our funding has finished. So we’ll hopefully be applying for more, but I love doing what I do so much so that it doesn’t actually bother me to get funded, you know,.  I’m happy the way things are and we’re not going anywhere.

Vanessa: I saw a thing on Instagram and it was saying that it shouldn’t be a job. It should be a career. And when you do have a career,  you love and you give all your energy to it. And that’s what, what it’s like for you and Sarah and everyone involved.

Danielle: Definitely. Yeah. And in a way it’s hard to juggle with having kids at home and, you know, I have a P4 I was homeschooling and that’s difficult because he was struggled to get himself motivated to do homeschooling. And although he’s really, really bright, it’s just hard because I mean, I’m not a teacher. I don’t have the patience. I’m a teacher to start with and we have a four-year-old as well who has just gone back to preschool full time.

Vanessa: having kids and juggling the role as a parent, teacher, and working – how do you find working and from home?

Danielle: Yeah, no, I do love it. I think it’s good that you have the flexibility that you can nip out if you have to do a school run or you’re maybe not getting up at whatever time, and you’re sitting in your jammies all day working. I love that side of things, but I think it’s difficult to switch off.

I don’t, and I’m sure a lot of people are exactly the same, but my office is set up in our living room. You know, we don’t have a separate roomy. We live in a three-bedroom semi with three bedrooms, so we don’t have the room for an office if that makes sense. So my laptop is sitting either on a desk in the living room or where I’m sitting at the minute, I’m in the kitchen because it’s a bit quieter.

So it’s hard to detach yourself from your work. Whereas if you had to be at work and you stop at a certain time, you finish your work and you don’t go back until whenever you’re next working. Whereas at home, if you’re working at home, I log my hours and I find myself getting so into something that I don’t realize how long I’ve spent on it. Whereas you wouldn’t do that if you’re in the office.

Vanessa: I agree. Whenever I was working from home. I was working from the kitchen table. Our kitchen table and our living room is in the same room. You would take your laptop over to the sofa and you were working. Normally you would switch to off at like five or half, five, in work, but when you’re sitting at home it’s harder.

Danielle: I was sitting until, I mean, Sarah’s wild for it. Like she would be up all night, um, pregnant or not pregnant, you know, four weeks to go until she’s due and she’s up all night. But I mean, I have stayed up a few nights last week, the week before until like, I looked at the clock and it was three o’clock in the morning. And I thought, I really need to go to bed at night, but I wasn’t tired. I was just so buzzed, you know, but sure.

Vanessa: What do you think is going to happen with Community Calling going forward in the next couple of months?

Danielle: Hopefully we’ll get more funding.  I’m really positive that we’re going to get some more funding.

We will be applying for funding from the national lottery and from the community foundation. So I am hoping that we will be able to continue what we’re doing with community network, because it’s helping so many VCSC organizations. Really we’re helping lose people and organizations with that and that all collaborating together.

And we’re also helping them people on an individual basis as well, and with their food parcels and anything that they need, whether they need we’ve volunteered to go and pick up the shopping. We don’t get as many of those now. So it’s more basic needs. We would have a lot of people who wouldn’t have enough basic needs, like their food or heating. A lot of people are maybe struggling to be able to put gas. You know, put money on credit into their gas or the electricity meter.

So we’re able to link them up with organizations then that can support them. And then those are organisations that are supporting them, we can support as well. I do promotions for them getting promotions for donations if they have a donation fund, you know, get down volunteers and just get the word out about what they’re doing.

Vanessa: I think it’s good that you are getting the word out and you are continuing to help people. I am so excited to see what’s going to happen over the next couple of months.

Every time I catch up with you all there’s something more exciting or more amazing happening. And I just can’t wait!

Danielle: It’s actually a bit surreal. Sometimes I sort of look back on the past year and go, what has this year being about what has this year been about. It has been totally unprecedented, as you would never have believed.

Vanessa: It’s good that even though it hasn’t been a great year, it is good to see that it has turned a lot of positives for people as well, even though it has been bad, good things have come out of it.

Danielle: I mean, I don’t think I would have been doing what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for COVID, you know, and I’m grateful.

So I’m grateful, not grateful that happened, obviously, because it’s horrendous, but grateful thought it put me in this position of shielding that I was able to get together and have my career. Hopefully, fingers crossed.

Vanessa: I agree, Danielle. I think it was a positive thing to come out of it too.

Thank you so much for calling in and chatting to me. It’s been great to hear about your backstory on your role in Community Calling.

Danielle: Thank you so much. It was lovely to catch up with it. It’s been a long time, so hopefully, speak to you soon. All right. Bye!

Vanessa: Bye!

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