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Overview

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) is the only UK charity with a sole focus on lung health. Their mission is that one day everyone breathes clean air with healthy lungs.

The charity operates support groups run by volunteers that offer a safe space for those affected by long-term lung conditions and their carers. Support groups help improve the quality of life for people affected by lung conditions, covering both physical and mental wellbeing.

BLF is working in partnership with commissioners, health care professionals, and communities to embed groups into local healthcare pathways. The charity has support groups in all four UK nations.

Traditionally, these support groups were run in community venues, but face-to-face support was suspended due to COVID-19. To continue supporting their members, the charity switched to virtual support.

Services are delivered remotely via Zoom. The charity started out by piloting the sessions using free licenses (which were restricted to 40-minute calls). They then purchased 150 Zoom licenses at a discounted charity rate, for use across the volunteer groups.

The sessions continue to offer guidance and space for mutual aid. The charity found that they have been able to connect more with volunteers than ever before and deliver learning and information to more service users through their network of volunteers.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since June 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe The British Lung Foundation’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a service user, I need to access the peer support group services I would normally be able to access face to face, remotely
  • As a staff member or volunteer, I need to deliver peer support group services remotely
  • As a staff member or volunteer, I need to keep our network of service users and volunteers sustainable during times of social distancing

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.

Considerations

Many people are already familiar with Zoom in their personal lives, and already have the app downloaded.

Hosting speakers over Zoom represents a far shorter time commitment than face-to-face, so you may be able to get speakers who would not normally be able to commit to a session.

The breakout rooms feature is useful for sessions with large numbers of attendees. It allows you to put people into separate, smaller groups to carry out their own discussions for all or part of the session.

Older service users may be more tech-averse or unused to digital services like Zoom. There are resources available that can help people get used to using Zoom.

Recipe steps

1. Plan

Designate roles and responsibilities. Make sure you have people in the right roles for their skills and that everyone understands the objectives you are trying to deliver.

Find relevant themes for each session. Gather information through polls to gauge interest on what the volunteers want. There are a number of different channels charities can use to create polls, such as Twitter or SurveyMonkey. Charities can also carry out polls through their website or direct mail to a CRM list.

2. Decide on a platform

Decide which platform you will use to deliver your sessions (such as Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams).

You can do this by assessing the needs and habits of your service users. For example, if your service users already use one platform, you should go with that one. Or if they have special requirements (such as the need for closed captioning) then you will need to identify a platform within your budget that can support this.

3. Build the formula

Decide on a basic formula that you can use across all your sessions. This should be based on the needs of your users and the nature of the support you are delivering.

Practice sessions with speakers in order to help you refine this and make sure that they are familiar with your session structure.

4. Deliver the service

Once your volunteers are set up with Zoom, you can begin delivering remote meetings. Set up a link and make sure that your service users have access to it.

You can also establish rules for your meeting, to deter ‘Zoom bombers’. These might include password protection, restrictions on screen-sharing, automatic muting of participants, and other measures.

While sessions are running, make sure there is someone manning the chatbox to answer questions and point people to information/links. At the end of the session, review the chatbox and cover any questions that haven't been answered.

5. Keep in touch

Plan how you will engage people on an ongoing basis. How will you keep the momentum going?

Ensure you keep a level of interest going through regular communications.

Before each session, send a 'save the date' email with theme, date, and registration as well as sign up for breakout rooms.

Send a 'thank you for attending' email afterwards with a summary of what was covered and any links that were shared. Invite people to share this with other members.

6. Assess and improve

Refine and optimise your service based on learnings gleaned from data analysis. You can send out a short survey after the meeting to solicit feedback, and/or schedule regular sessions to discuss what is working and what could be improved with your users.

You can also examine data on uptake. Are user numbers growing or shrinking? This should give you valuable insight into how well your service delivery is working.

Guidance

Be prepared – factor in plenty of time to practise sessions beforehand as investing this time for trial and error upfront will pay off in the long run. If using Zoom, use the free 40-minute sessions as training sessions to practise before committing to buying any subscriptions.

Have breaks factored in, but make sure that the screen is never blank at any point. When in the waiting room, or on break, have information on screen such as the rules and important links and contact information, or even a video playing.

Have as much support as possible available, with enough people to man each of the breakout rooms. Have a member of staff assigned to ensure timekeeping and be prepared to step in should things overrun.

When designing sessions, keep things simple by building slowly, based on what works. Take on board feedback of all kinds, including verbal. If something isn't working, don't be afraid to change it.

Take the sessions as a learning experience, and make it clear that you're human and learning together. Be open to listening to people who may have more experience or know tricks that you don't.

Risks

No matter how prepared you are, things can go wrong. Have a back-up IT person available on the phone for any technical problems during the session. Always have someone on backup to walk attendees through how to connect and answer basic connection questions.

Safeguarding and online security is essential. Make it clear not to give anyone a Zoom link unless they are a registered volunteer.

Make sure staff in each breakout room are labelled with 'staff and 'organisation name' under their name, so that attendees know who to go to if there's a problem or concern. Have someone available in each breakout room to monitor any inappropriate conversations.

Establish clear meeting rules and stick to them, so that everyone knows what is appropriate. Have those rules reiterated in the waiting room, during break, and emails. It helps to make attendees and speakers feel safe when they know exactly how things will be run.

Be confident about stating the rules. If someone starts talking about something inappropriate, don't be afraid to step in, put them on mute, and explain quickly and clearly that they were breaking the rules.

Thanks

Many thanks to The British Lung Foundation 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 The British Lung Foundation 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 March 17th, 2021. Last updated March 17th, 2021