Reflecting on an unbelievable 1st year

Statement by Co-Founder, Sarah Scullion

📢 Today, Community Calling is officially one year old 🎉

We reflect on an absolutely unbelievable 1st year and our plans for the future…

#Purpose #Impact #Beneficiaries #Team #Support #Focus #Policies #Recognition #Funding #Costs #Revenue #Circumstances – PLEASE READ AND SHARE ⚠️

Why we formed Community Calling on 30th March 2020

Having launched our COVID-19 Community Support matching service on 15th of March 2020 and with over 500 registrations in the first 2 weeks we saw an instant need for our service which led to us forming Community Calling as a social enterprise before the end of the same month.
500 registrations in the first 2 weeks
Our purpose
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.

And it’s just the beginning…

Our impact

Our efforts since March 2020 have resulted in these headline figures:

  • 1,000+ community support matches
  • 1,400+ offers of community support
  • 7,000+ estimated beneficiaries
  • £100,000+ estimated value of the matches
In addition to the headline figures, we have monitored our activity in these areas:
  • 1,200,000+ impressions on social media
  • 23,000+ main website sessions
  • 2,300+ contacts created
  • 2,000+ online form submissions
  • 5,300+ service emails sent
  • 500+ Community Network NI members
  • 400+ Slack Community members

Our beneficiaries

Our service originally benefited people who were experiencing disproportionate difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. However, as our support requests became more complex, we extended our services to cover a wider range of challenges and issues. We have ranked the circumstances of our beneficiaries in order of those most frequently checked on our forms by the beneficiaries themselves:

  1. Isolated
  2. Mental health challenges
  3. Urgent financial challenges
  4. Physical health challenges
  5. Other (e.g. donations)
  6. Support for children/young people
  7. Family/parenting challenges
  8. Elderly/older people
  9. Technology/digital challenges
  10. Carer-giving challenges
  11. Personal safety concerns
  12. Living in poverty
  13. Employability challenges
  14. Marginalised/minority groups
  15. Education challenges
  16. Homeless

Our core team

Some of you will know my background and how I began developing our platform myself whilst self-isolating just before the UK and Ireland went into lockdown. No initial funding, no experience in the VCSE sector – just a problem to solve – to connect people who needed support with those who were offering to help. 

Within a week, our admin team started to grow – firstly with the support of an old friend from school, Charmayne Milliken, who shadowed what I was doing and quickly began to cover our support matching service during those early days when we had up to 97 registrations per day and I was working around the clock getting everything set up.
Then on 28th March, we received a support request from Danielle Mills who had just been advised to shield for 12 weeks. After matching Danielle with a local volunteer and requesting feedback on our service, Danielle asked if there was anything she could do remotely. From that day, Danielle has been fundamental to the support we provide.
Three mums in lockdown, all with young kids, working voluntarily to do as best we could to help in a crisis situation. More about us 👉 here.

Our support 

Through collaboration with the most amazing community organisations and volunteers across the whole of Northern Ireland, we’ve been able to ensure support is provided to those most in need across all of the circumstances listed above but perhaps most significantly, the following examples:
Physical tasks: This was how it started and we’ve continued to help hundreds of beneficiaries get access to essential shopping and medication throughout the pandemic. Many of these people are classified as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and we have been able to support them by matching them with local volunteers who have been keen to help.
Mental health: Our support in relation to mental health started with telephone befriending services offered by volunteers and led to linking in with professional services from counselling, psychotherapy and well-being workshops to peer support groups, suicide prevention training and bereavement services – ALL FREE OF CHARGE AND WITHOUT LONG WAITING LISTS.
Basic needs: We’ve noticed increased demand in relation to basic needs including families urgently requesting access to food, basic hygiene products, heating, electricity, internet connection, household items, and gifts for children at Christmas. We’ve been working alongside various food banks, hygiene banks and charitable initiatives to meet these needs.
Crisis intervention: Perhaps the most significant and lesser-known area of our support. It includes beneficiaries contacting us with suicidal thoughts, extreme substance abuse and those at risk of domestic violence. We’ve received feedback from both beneficiaries and organisations to let us know that OUR SERVICE HAS RESULTED IN INTERVENTIONS THAT HAVE SAVED LIVES.

Donations: We’ve matched thousands of donations from PPE, hand sanitiser, hygiene products and food aid to essential household items, gifts for children and baby items for single mums and homeless families. We do this by linking in with specific organisations whereby the donations go via our partners and DIRECTLY TO THOSE MOST IN NEED, COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE.

Volunteers: Initially we relied on volunteers to fulfill the support requests for physical tasks and telephone befriending services but as needs became more complex we decided to start connecting volunteers with existing charities and community groups in order to increase capacity and capabilities of existing community support and then make referrals to them.

Promotion: Anyone who is familiar with our main website, our blog or any of our groups on Community Network NI will notice one thing in common… “Asks and Offers” – that’s what we are all about! What do you need? What can you offer? We’ve found this approach presents so many opportunities – not only for support matches but also for collaborations. We encourage our members to share their stories, asks, offers, news and events with us so that we can promote it and shout a little louder, together. 

We strongly believe that we can become bigger cheerleaders for one another in the VCSE Sector and we have so many ideas in this area. We’re just scratching the surface 👉 here.

Our areas of focus

It has only been possible to match support by reaching out and connecting with individuals and organisations across Northern Ireland – to date that’s over 1400 in total. Truly remarkable human beings who have been willing and able to provide support across a wide range of areas.
We initially created communication channels for our volunteers to pick up support requests on our “COVID-19 Community Support” Slack channel and, more recently, launched our “Community Network NI” – a collaborative platform for the VCSE Sector.

Our digital community support matching service and growing collaborative community network complements a wide range of local activities from VCSE organisations across the following key areas of focus:

  • Community Development (300+)
  • Health and Wellbeing (300+)
  • Education/Training (300+)
  • Volunteer Development (200+)
  • Young People (200+)
  • Community Relations (200+)
  • Advice Services (100+)
  • Disability (100+)
  • Older People (100+)
  • Women (50+)
  • Men (50+)
  • Lobbying/Policy (50+)
  • Sport/Recreation (50+)
  • Rural Development (50+)
  • Carers (50+)
  • Housing and Homelessness (20+)
  • Race/Ethnicity (20+)
  • Environment and Built Heritage (20+)
  • Transport (20+)

(Please note the number in brackets is our target number of members for each group on Community Network NI – we’d love to get to this stage over the next 12 months)

Collaboration is key – It’s about identifying what is working and supporting those organisations, whether it be in relation to increasing their resources, facilitating collaboration, or promoting their services or campaigns. Our aim is to be as transparent as possible, sharing information amongst the sector, reducing duplication and linking our support requests with these valuable services and resources – making them more accessible to those in need. 

Our policies and procedures

We’ve developed policies, procedures and processes to meet the service that we provide. It has taken a lot of time, consideration and consultation with our insurance company and professionals in various areas. As a new organisation with a new concept, this is something that continually needs to be reviewed to ensure best practice.

We have a simple 7 step process for support requests: 

When forms are submitted, information is instantly stored on our secure, central database. Our system uses technology to filter requests, in real-time, to our dedicated communication channels based on location or key impact theme.
We use a range of online forms to gather key information relating to support requests, offers of support, onboarding and keeping in contact with our network.
We ask relevant parties to formally confirm they have read and understood these documents in due course so we make them available in one place for convenience. We always welcome any suggestions for improvement and ask for anyone to contact us if you have any concerns or queries.

The support we have gained

We couldn’t have achieved all of this without the support we have gained over the last 12 months. It’s very hard to summarise but I’ll have a go…. from the top…
Our funding 

£28,250 total grant funding to date

We were successful on 3/3 funding applications in 2020: 

  • Community Foundation Northern Ireland Coronavirus grant of £10,000 (Jun)
  • Community Foundation Northern Ireland Need Needs grant of £8,250 (Oct)
  • National Lottery Community Fund Awards for All grant of £10,000 (Nov)
This track record gave us hope that we could secure more vital funding to continue our extended services in 2021 but unfortunately we are currently experiencing a gap in funding that may result in us having to scale back significantly.

Our costs

We have been very grateful to have operated with exceptionally reduced software expenses over the last 12 months due to support from the suppliers but we are now facing monthly bills with the full cost of the software we are running being:

£1,000+ per month for software

To date our staffing costs for operations have been minimal due so many voluntary hours being undertaken by our core admin team, bringing our total core staffing costs for year to:

£10,928 paid core staffing

Again, our tech development costs have been minimal due to the majority of hours being undertaken on a voluntary basis. The paid tech development costs for last year totalled:

£8,000 paid tech development 

Our voluntary hours to develop our platform and offer our services has totalled at least:

£53,072 unpaid hours for tech development and core staffing

Like so many other teams in the VCSE sector, we have put our hearts and souls into this, working almost every day of week, sacrificing both family time and paid work to get this off the ground; but this month the realisation came… THAT IT MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH.

Our revenue

We also have a plan to start generating revenue as a social enterprise by offering our services to organisations who could benefit from reducing costs and time spent on admin by using our technology.

However, we formed the the middle of a pandemic – at a time when many organisations are struggling to survive and to continue to support their clients and communities so we have spent the last year providing ALL OF OUR SERVICES COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE.

We will always provide our FREE SUPPORT MATCHING SERVICE FOR BENEFICIARIES and FREE MEMBERSHIP FOR OUR COLLABORATIVE COMMUNITY NETWORK we are planning to introduce some paid options for those who would benefit from the digital support we specialise in – only where this would be mutually beneficial.

We had a few funds lined up to come through Q1 or early Q2 of 2021 and thought this would be enough for us to continue our services for another few months before launching our #GoDigital initiative and securing more longer-term funding – however this has not been the case.

Our current situation

We currently have enough in the bank to cover our software for 1-2 more months max. We’ve been working completely voluntarily since the end of our pilot in February. Unfortunately, if we can’t secure enough to pay our software bills moving forward the future of our services is uncertain and may need to be significantly scaled back.

Our ask ⚠️

We wanted to provide an opportunity for anyone who can see the value and potential in what we’ve built up over the last year and who may be in a position to help – to GET INVOLVED.

We have opened up some payments options:

*OPTIONAL paid annual membership

  • £49 optional paid membership of Community Network NI 👉 here

*Access to Community Network NI WILL ALWAYS BE FREE OF CHARGE for people providing support to communities in Northern Ireland. We’re only introducing the OPTIONAL PAID MEMBERSHIP for anyone who would like to contribute financially to help keep the platform and our support matching service going.

Alternatively we are open to donations – no matter how small

  • One-off donation 👉 here
  • Regular donations 👉 here
Finally, any support or feedback could help us secure more funding
As mentioned, we are a small team of volunteers with one (myself) due to give birth any day now – so believe me when I say, we welcome any support to enable the continuity of our services as they are. That may be through seeing a way collaborate or by providing some feedback to let us know your thoughts on the value of what we do 👉 here.
We really appreciate you taking the time to read this and, as always, we welcome any suggestions or queries.

Thanks so much,


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