Global Technology Companies Power Local Community Covid Response Team

April 16, 2020 3:24 PM

Dale Roberts Lib Dem campaigner and activistDale Roberts, a Knaphill man and Lib Dem campaigner/activist, reached out to global software giants for a local solution to help vulnerable residents, and found that international technology works best when it is powered by the local community.

Dale Roberts, explained "I wanted to find a way to connect those that needed help with those that could provide it using one of the many 'Uber like' applications. As a technologist, I know that they are immediate, efficient and require little administration, which was perfect for doing something quickly with a volunteer community with variable availability". He started conversations with Ikea owned, TaskRabbit, an app that connects people to local traders or 'taskers'. They immediately saw the opportunity to open their app to volunteers but needed time.

Meanwhile, Roberts was introduced to another organiser, Sonal Sher who had been quick off the mark establishing a Facebook group and, importantly, an emergency helpline. It became immediately obvious that, as ubiquitous as the mobile phone is, it wouldn't reach everyone. What was needed was something that connected both people and technology.

Mindful of privacy, the newly formed group didn't want to rely on Facebook. Instead, Roberts enlisted another industry solution for private communities, Slack, who offered it free and the group formed immediately. Within a few days they had onboarded over a hundred volunteers, each individually welcomed with thanks and instructions on the best and safest way they could serve local residents. "We needed the system but we didn't wait for it to be perfect", Roberts commented, "We didn't even wait for it to be finished! It was built as we went along". Their approach worked. Within three weeks of starting, volunteers had posted hundreds of leaflets, delivered their first hundred prescriptions and dozens of grocery shops to thankful neighbours. All tracked and recorded securely.

Roberts was looking for an approach that was 'most help, least effort'. Administratively, it runs on the work of just three incredible Duty Volunteers who staff the helpline. They log each request and 'shout out' in one of three 'channels' for each of the villages, Knaphill, St. Johns and Brookwood. There is an all-villages channel if the request doesn't get picked up quickly, but that's an increasingly rare occurrence. Local volunteers overwhelmingly want to participate and help.

Our approach, to adapt as we go along has taught us a great deal and even then, we had to deal with some surprises along the way. I would be happy to share more of our experiences with other groups, perhaps newly formed, to help them learn from our experience.

Contact the Knaphill, St. Johns and Brookwood volunteer support group on or 01483 380801. Dale Roberts on