Alpha This is a new service – your feedback will help us to improve it.

Contributed by
Sue Ryder


Sue Ryder supports people through the most difficult times of their lives. Whether that’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or a neurological condition, the charity aims to be there when it matters.

Sue Ryder has been providing peer support through their Online Bereavement Community since 2015, but they found that people were not always able to find professional support if they needed it.

The charity piloted a free online service in 2018 providing counselling via video, which allowed people to access professional support from home. During the pilot, the charity collected feedback from service users and used the information to develop a new counselling platform.

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 Sue Ryder’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a person experiencing bereavement, I need professional support I can access from home
  • As a charity, we need to expand our bereavement services to support the people who really need it

Software and tools used


Twilio offers programmable voice, SMS, and video. Sue Ryder used Twilio to create the video element of its counselling platform, as the platform is highly customisable.


Twilio’s programmable video costs $0.0011 per participant per minute. However, they offer an initial credit to charities as part of their Impact Access Program.


The main benefit is customisation. Sue Ryder has been able to develop a video system that resolved a number of issues raised during the pilot phase of the service, as well as implementing functions that have reduced counsellors’ admin time. The level of customisation could be a limitation in some circumstances, as it can take time to develop.


Timekit is a scheduling tool for managing appointment bookings.


Timekit has three price plans. Sue Ryder used the middle tier, which is $149 (£108.33) per month for 15 resources.


As with Twilio, one of the main benefits of Timekit is customisation. Timekit offers two solutions for managing counsellors’ availability – recurring and specific – which allows charities to automate the creation of new appointments while retaining control over specific appointments.

Recipe steps

1. Research into user need

• Look into common themes that arise in terms of the needs that users say they have but are currently not being supported

• Research with warm and cold audiences to see what ideas can be put in place to support the needs of users

• Set up workshops with service users to find out more about what they need

• Test the idea you have chosen with internal stakeholders and have interviews with other teams for a holistic view of how you can offer a service online

2. Develop a pilot to test the concept

• Try not to build something from scratch. Use existing communities and technologies

• Don’t try to do too much before you know what will work and what is needed

3. Train staff and inform users of how to use the platform

• Make sure counsellors feel comfortable and have support through training

• Ensure information on the software you use is available on your website so clients and users can understand what technology will be required of them; this will ensure that their use of your service is as smooth as possible

• Have clear signposting of who users can contact should they struggle with any platforms. This will lessen the likelihood of disengagement

4. Gather feedback during pilot

• When first setting up your pilot, decide at what points throughout the timeline you want to collect feedback

• Build automated feedback requests into your systems after every session for users to rate the technology and share their thoughts

• Use applications like SurveyMonkey to gather detailed reflections from users

5. Use feedback to develop a full-scale platform

• Gather thoughts from counsellors to understand where they think improvements should be made

• Ensure counsellors and other key stakeholders are involved with the key steps you take during the development of the full-scale platform

• When developing your full-scale platform, do so in design sprints that you create alongside your design agency. These should be built around your key requirements

• Make sure to consider all user groups, so they have a slick and easy experience, which you can ensure by performing tests at the end of each sprint


Sue Ryder found that testing was the most important part of the process. They suggest that other charities should put their users at the centre of design and development.

Charities need feedback from users so that they know how they would use the service. Charities may be surprised as to what users may actually want.

Charities should be adaptable and learn from the mistakes that occur. Be prepared for things not to work, as counselling online is different to the process of face-to-face counselling.


A user may try to use the online system but not be able to or find it jarring to use. This can lead to a lack of uptake in counselling sessions or may leave vulnerable users feeling an additional level of distress. These can be mitigated by training and robust processes.

Online counselling adds another level of safeguarding issues. It can be a disinhibiting experience for users, so they may share more on a video call than they would have face-to-face.

Counsellors need to be trained for online counselling so that they can manage difficult situations online.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Eleanor Baggley


Many thanks to Sue Ryder for contributing this recipe.


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 Sue Ryder 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 30th, 2021. Last updated March 30th, 2021