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Contributed by
St Petrocs

Overview

St Petrocs is a charity working to end homelessness in Cornwall.

One of the most profound challenges facing homelessness charities is that of reaching service users who are often digitally excluded. In today’s world, it is increasingly important that everyone has access to the internet. Digital isolation can be a real problem as most opportunities for housing, training, employment, or benefits require you to be online. 

In response to these challenges, St Petrocs has developed an app that provides anyone pushed into homelessness with easily accessible information and assistance.    The app includes links to local and online support, contact details for agencies across the county, and access to news and events. It also includes digital skills training and other learning resources. There is a secure messaging function with a direct communication link into dedicated St Petrocs staff irrespective of location.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since April 2021.

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

Users and needs served

  • As a service user, I need a way to find local support and speak to someone who can offer me advice
  • As a service user, I need a way of staying connected to society no matter where I am
  • As a service user, I need a way of staying connected to my support network
  • As a member of staff, I need a way of accessing support agency details and information in a hurry

Software and tools used

Disciple

Disciple is an app that allows users to create bespoke community platforms. It has advanced social networking functionality and allows users to build online communities, host resources, hold live streams, deliver training and sell subscriptions.

Cost

Disciple operates a monthly subscription model. This can be a good fit for charities with smaller budgets, as it can allow you to deliver a working app with little to no upfront development cost.

Pricing for web functionality starts at £45 per month (plus VAT). Pricing for app packages starts at £399 per month (plus VAT).

A more detailed breakdown of pricing information is available here.

Considerations

The app allows staff to provide support and help to people remotely. This was important to St Petrocs due to the geography and socio-economic realities of their work – Cornwall is a large sea locked county in which a lack of access to transport is a massive barrier to accessing services.  

Disciples’ app platform is flexible and easy to manage. User invitations are straightforward and simple to send out.  

It is easy to share content and set up support groups in the app.   

There are limitations in that users are restricted within the overall structure and functionality of the app platform.  However, this is a trade-off against the cost of developing a bespoke app. 

There is no restriction on the number of private groups that you can have on the platform.

St Petrocs considered several subscription app platforms and bespoke app developers. They chose to go down the route of a subscription app platform to keep initial development costs to a minimum, whilst being able to deliver an app over a tried and tested platform.   

Security and online safety were a priority for St Petrocs and so being able retain control of app users and user privileges was extremely important. 

St Petrocs was able to bring their people and content together in a community platform incorporating their own branding and identity.  

Disciple allows users to segment and manage audiences in the app based on their support requirements with public and private Groups and Feeds. The back-end portal allows users to store and share content easily.   

By utilising an app platform, the technical aspects of the development are all taken care of. Management of software updates and security features are included within the subscription fee. 

Recipe steps

1. Look at options for your app

If other charities have done something similar, have conversations with them to figure out the process that they have gone through.

Decide whether you want bespoke app productions or developments or if you want a platform that is more of a subscription service, to which you can attach your branding.

2. Speak to your team

Discuss the project with your team to find out how they want to use the app, and what they need from it.

Create a list of the desired functionalities for the app. Assign priorities to these, and find out how the software can deliver these functions. Sometimes there will not be a perfect fit but you have to think about delivering the minimum viable product that you can, then build on this in the future.

3. Conduct staff presentation

Demonstrate the app and the way it works through a presentation to your staff.

Gather staff who are interested in the app as the first point of contact when it comes to creating more content on it.

4. Trial the app

Test the app with a small pool of users in order to gather feedback and develop ideas for the app.

5. Keep the platform secure

Ensure users are only able to access the app via invitation. This helps you to control who is joining and also to monitor the privileges that users have within the app.

Make sure that a member of your staff is present in each group chat.

6. Provide basic mobile phones

You can apply for funding to provide phones to users where this is deemed necessary so that they can continue using your services easily.

For more information on providing phones to service users, check out this recipe.

Guidance

Utilise an existing platform that you can attach your branding to, as opposed to opting for a bespoke service. This will allow you to provide your service faster and for a lower price.

This is especially important for the likes of small charities such as St Petrocs. You can develop something more bespoke at a later stage, after monitoring the performance of your app over an extended period of time.

Risks

By delivering a digital solution, you are then opening up people to digital risks that they may not be used to considering. You can access more information on digital safeguarding here.

There is a risk that you are creating something that won’t be used as much as you anticipated.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Henry Meacock

Thanks

Many thanks to St Petrocs 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 St Petrocs 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 May 7th, 2021. Last updated May 6th, 2021