Interview with Stephen Coulter from The Quirky Bird
Tell us a bit about yourself and/or your organisation.
I purchased The Quirky Bird in 2018 after selling my previous business, a Subway franchise, a few weeks before my son was born. While I owned Subway, I was spending a considerable amount of my time commuting, this combined with the restrictions which being a franchise owner entails meant I felt unable to follow my real passion – helping my local community.
Inspired by my parents who offered community support services overseas for most of their adult lives. I was also made acutely aware of the mental health struggles that so many people around me were facing, and I wanted to play my part in helping to alleviate those.
Moreover, the prospect of becoming a new dad really made me re-evaluate my life. Having spent most of my career in the catering industry, I felt that this route would be the best way to offer the community-based support that I wanted to offer.
How well have you/your organisation adapted to the pandemic?
Throughout the pandemic, I have focused on developing our business to meet the current challenges people in our community are facing.
I have launched “Moira Community Calling”, in conjunction with “Community Calling”, during the most recent lockdown, to provide a local support matching service for Moira and the surrounding areas.
This service offers critical support to our local community, be it physical support, emotional support or basic needs and will thus help to save duplication of services in the area.
Through our website we have a link to allow people to register their request for support, and this request can then be matched, through the “Community Calling” service, with a local community volunteer or organisation who will follow up on the request.
This initiative will help to centralise much of the community support available to local people living in Moira and the surrounding area.
Our “Chatter & Natter” initiative (which pre-lockdown, was already having a positive impact on people struggling with loneliness in our community), has also been able to go online.
On a national level, “The Chatty Café Scheme”, of which we are part of through our “Chatter & Natter” table, started to deliver a virtual service over lockdown which they opened up to us.
They offer these cafes three times a week. Each session lasts for 30 minutes and many people who join these sessions report that these are the only faces they see all day.
There is no agenda – just chat and company and interactions. Offering this new service has also allowed me to advertise for new roles within the business.
I have had considerable interest in the Community Support Volunteer role which will help with the “Virtual Chatty Café” support network in Moira.
How well have people/organisations in your area collaborated throughout the pandemic?
Before Christmas, we worked closely alongside Gap Food Bank to launch our annual Toy Appeal, giving struggling families within the local area the opportunity to give a toy to their children at Christmas. The Baby Love Project also collaborated with us for this initiative.
Throughout the pandemic, I have focused on strengthening the links which The Quirky Bird already had in place with other local organisations. Pre-pandemic, we already provided certain meals to the food bank to match meals which were purchased by customers. This is something which has continued during the COVID-19 crisis.
What key needs are becoming apparent and/or are likely to arise this year?
I look forward to when lockdown eases and getting our “Chatter & Natter” table back to full operation again. It is clear that supporting people’s mental health is one of the greatest needs to arise from the pandemic.
Having a virtual option for people is great, but for many, face-to-face contact is essential.
My wife plans to start a counselling course in September, bringing another much-needed service to the business once she qualifies, given that mental health challenges, already at breaking point prior to 2020, have risen considerably since the onset of the COVID-19.
ASK: What do you need, right now, that the members of Community Network NI and/or the wider community may be able to help you with?
I am always advertising for new roles within the business. I have already had considerable interest in the Community Support Volunteer role which will help with the “Virtual Chatty Café” support network in Moira. If you would like to get involved in any of our initiatives, please respond to this ask below.