When restriction of movement was enforced in the UK, Woodbridge Town Council knew it would make life very difficult for some people.
With a town and surrounding population of around 17,000, a high proportion of whom are elderly residents, the community needed to consolidate its resources to address the impending difficulties. Mayor Patrick Gillard, together with councillor Eamonn O’Nolan, formed a team of volunteers to help support local residents in their needs, setting in motion one of the country’s proudest success stories.
From a handful of people with a spreadsheet, the initiative grew into the hundreds, supported by a state-of-the-art CRM system and VoIP communications system. While the organisation was successful, and community response positive, the conditions created by isolation highlighted some sobering realities.
Woodbridge Emergency Response Group provides three main avenues of support: delivery of prescription medicine, distribution of food, and emotional support.
Many local people rely on regular medicinal supplies, which is now complicated by physical distancing and isolation. Local pharmacies serve the town of Woodbridge and the surrounding area, with roughly 3,500 people relying on access to critical medicine. In order to help residents access their supplies, Woodbridge Emergency Response Group partnered with local pharmacies to organise a delivery service.
The group began using a spreadsheet to record the contact data of customers in need of support and set up a delivery schedule to meet those needs. “As we started getting more interest in the initiative,” says councillor Eamonn O’Nolan, “I decided it was time to take advantage of a charitable offer from Salesforce to import all our data into a high-functioning CRM system.”
The next opportunity was communication. As the most vulnerable clients of the emergency response system were elderly residents, their online presence was extremely limited and the group therefore had to rely on telephone calls to maintain contact. The local town hall is served by a four-line telephone connection, which isn’t enough to connect the group’s volunteers with the base they serve.
Fortunately, the group was eligible to take advantage of RingCentral’s COVID-19 offer to set up a free 100-user RingCentral Office licence. Diverting calls from a town hall reception line to the RingCentral virtual switchboard allowed the group to set up multiple users to field calls and log requests in the newly built CRM system.
“We’re able to maintain open phone lines during office hours, operating three three-hour shifts through the day,” says Eamonn. “Usually, two call handlers are supported by a helpdesk manager on shift.” The volunteers are enabled by the system’s ease of use: Each call handler logs on to Salesforce, activates the RingCentral app on their personal mobile phone and starts accepting calls from the call queue that’s rerouted from the town hall.
The vast majority of support provided by Woodbridge Emergency Response Group is the delivery of prescription medicine, and they aim to expand that service even further. As Eamonn explains, “The medicine delivery service currently covers about 15% of the total number of prescription customers in the town, and there are still queues outside the pharmacies. We’re really trying to reduce that.”
Besides access to essential medicine, restriction of movement has raised a lot of other social issues to attention – issues the group wishes to help with. Social isolation takes a toll on mental health, and the group offers phone-based conversation and counselling to help residents feel more connected. The issue of food poverty has come starkly to light, and the group helps to alleviate this by partnering with Fareshare, a national food redistribution organisation. The group is conscious that this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the community needs and how it can be addressed.
As the volunteer base and requests for help continue to grow, “We’re aiming to be viewed not only as a delivery service but also as a friendly face and a source of connection and community,” says Eamonn. “Among our volunteers are tradespeople who can help with essential infrastructural issues like plumbing and electrical circuitry, along with psychiatrists and counsellors who can offer psychological support.”
The group is still welcoming requests for assistance, and encourages anyone who needs support to get in touch either by email or by phoning 01394 383599. Residents can also get in touch via the website, on Twitter or on Facebook.
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