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Overview

Home-Start Royston, Buntingford and South Cambridgeshire (HSRBSC) offers support to families who are struggling.

Part of their service includes “Family Group” sessions, where families are encouraged to give and receive peer support, learn new hobbies or skills, form friendships, and have fun with reading, songs and games.

In the last 12 months, HSRBSC has adapted to digital service delivery, providing an online community for families who would otherwise feel isolated and unsupported.

HSRBSC provided training to volunteers who help to run the sessions, including training on safeguarding and security procedures. They also provided training and technology support to the families accessing the service, to ensure that everyone was able to access and use the service confidently.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since May 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe Home-Start Royston, Buntingford and South Cambridgeshire’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a volunteer, I need to support families in a safe and supportive environment
  • As a service user, I need to access help and feel part of a community, even when I can’t see anyone face to face
  • As a member of staff, I need to be able to deliver my charity’s mission
  • As a referrer, I need to know that this service is available to families who are struggling

Software and tools used

Zoom

Zoom is a popular online conferencing platform with video, audio, and live text chat. Features include the ability to screen share, as well as to share links and other media during a session.

Cost

Zoom offers a range of subscriptions.

The free ‘Basic’ plan allows unlimited one-to-one meetings but has a 40-minute time limit on group sessions.

There are also various options for paid plans:

Pro (£11.99/month/host)

Business (£15.99/month/host)

Enterprise (£15.99/month/host).

These plans contain increased options for participation and no time restrictions.

Zoom is also available at discounted charity rates through the Charity Digital Exchange programme.

More price options can be found here.

Considerations

Zoom is simple and easy to use.

Zoom’s free subscription offers 40-minute sessions, which means that trialling new ways to work does not come with additional costs.

Re-starting the sessions every 40 minutes can interrupt the flow of support, and so you may want to invest in a paid licence.

Although Zoom is one of the most common video conferencing platforms, some people (both staff and service users) will not be confident using it, and will require some basic support and training.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a popular digital messaging platform for smartphones that provides text, voice, and video calls, as well as simple file-sharing capabilities.

Cost

WhatsApp is free to use.

Considerations

Not everyone is able to use other messaging software (e.g. Facebook Messenger).
WhatsApp is free to use, accessible to all and secure.

YouTube

YouTube is a social media platform that enables users to post videos and browse through videos from other users at their leisure.

Cost

YouTube is free to use.

Considerations

Volunteers were able to create videos for the families to watch showing how crafts were made.

The videos were unlisted so that only members of the Family Group sessions could access them.

Although the videos are unlisted, meaning they can’t be found by searching, they are still shareable outside of the community, so it was not possible to include videos of families engaging in activities.

YouTube is not always a safe place for children – safeguarding may be an issue.

Recipe steps

1. Identify user requirements

Discuss servicer user and service provider requirements, both internally with team members and externally with service users, in order to identify the best platform for use.

2. Train staff and volunteers

Ensure that anyone responsible for setting up Zoom calls understands how to do so safely, and is aware of safeguarding issues.

3. Ensure accessibility

Not everyone has access to the same levels of education and technology. Before rolling out the service, ensure that all those receiving the service are in a position to access it.

Individually check each user has the skills and technology to make use of the service.

4. Make the decision

Having reviewed the service delivery options, decide whether going online is going to work.

Hold an internal meeting to discuss the requirements, pros and cons of the move, and agree to give online sessions a trial. Then hold a discussion with volunteers to ensure that they are all prepared for the change.

5. Check your policies

Ensure that your policies are up to date for the new service.

Review privacy, safeguarding, and volunteer policies to ensure that they are in keeping with the new way of working. Amendments should be made and approved by your Board of Trustees, prior to the new service becoming available.

6. Be flexible

Be aware of users’ expectations and environments, and be prepared to be flexible to accommodate changing needs.

7. Make it inviting

Online video calls often lack the personal touch – people who are not used to using such a platform may feel left out or ignored. Make sure that the staff or volunteers who are running the service are aware of users, encouraging everyone to take part and be active in the session.

8. Make it interesting

Offer participants the chance to have a go at something. If children are included in the sessions, make sure that any required items are available in advance, and instructions are clear and simple.

9. Get feedback and change if needed

Listen to the service users and providers: if something isn’t working for them, then consider making a change.

Working digitally does not suit everyone; it is very easy to alienate a service user or provider if concerns are not addressed.

Each week, offer people the chance to come forward, either in a group setting (if the dynamics of the group allow) or individually, and discuss any concerns or suggestions for improvement.

Guidance

Discuss each individual user’s access to the internet (for example, be aware if someone is accessing the session via 3G as opposed to Wi-Fi), to ensure that the connection isn’t under pressure.

The co-host option on a Zoom call allows multiple people to run the call, which alleviates the pressure on the main host, allows for technical support to be shared, and also allows the hosts to share the burden of managing the session.

Not everyone is confident using video calling. Ensuring that everyone receives training gives everyone the chance to make the most out of the sessions.

Service users come and go, so it is key that the sessions have a consistent approach, allowing new families to settle in quickly. The sense of community is enhanced when the same volunteers attend the sessions, as the faces become familiar.

Risks

When working with families, safeguarding during group sessions is key. Zoom features, such as the option to record, must be disabled prior to the sessions taking place.

Creating a sense of community is harder when everyone has different access to technology; there is the chance of service users negatively comparing their own technology with others, which can exacerbate mental health or low self-esteem issues. Ensure that all the sessions are accessible on every kind of technology (for example, making sure that activities don’t require a certain screen size, which would prevent someone using a mobile phone from taking part).

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Cathy Coulthard Events and Community Development Manager

Thanks

Many thanks to Home-Start Royston, Buntingford and South Cambridgeshire for contributing this recipe.

Licence

This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and Home-Start Royston, Buntingford and South Cambridgeshire and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on April 16th, 2021. Last updated April 20th, 2021