Supporting the Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise sector during Coronavirus with Microsoft TeamsDate posted: 17th August 2020
Identifying a gap, addressing a need
As a key part of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS) reached out to local Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) partners to find out how they were managing 'business as usual' and delivering services to their service users. A significant number of Lancashire and South Cumbria residents have reported experiencing difficulties related to lockdown, such as worsening of physical health symptoms, loneliness, anxiety and depression and worsening of mental health issues (Healthwatch, 2020). Many of these residents accessed support through the VCFSE organisations doing valuable work across Lancashire and South Cumbria prior to lockdown, but some are new to using Community-based voluntary services as a consequence of Coronavirus. Feedback from organisations made it clear that they were finding it tough to deliver their services in a socially-distanced or remote way.
The ICS was able to secure software licences to support remote conferencing for use by partners to connect with staff, volunteers and the people using their services digitally. Microsoft (MS) Teams (a video-conferencing app that can be used on a PC, laptop or smartphone) was offered for free to VCFSE partners, for a time-limited period, so they could continue to deliver services remotely whether those were internal or client-facing. More than thirty Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS partners have made use of the offer.
Declan Hadley, Digital Lead for Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, said:
"The Integrated Care System is delighted to be able to share with our partners free access to such an important resource as Microsoft Teams. We place great value on the work done by all system partners, and we recognise that in these unprecedented times we must share resources that allow innovation and creative ways of working."
When asked, many of the VCFSE organisations using the free MS Teams licences shared that they have had a very positive experience. Some partners had been using another video-conferencing app, and welcomed the opportunity to use MS Teams without a cost implication for their organisation.
Accessible and useful
Some VCFSE partners had not previously had access to video-conferencing software and found it invaluable.
Maria Chambers, Chief Executive of CancerCare said:
"Thanks so much for the support with Teams, it has been fantastic for CancerCare. We have quite an antiquated system and had just bought a few new laptops and upgraded to Windows 10 when the lockdown came. We have used every aspect of teams; video conferencing, file sharing, messaging, tasks to manage projects etc. It has been a great introduction to our people in the use of more modern technology and has made us much more productive. So much so, that we are going to put a paper to our Board asking to fund it long term.
Having Teams meant that we could carry on working well during this time, we are enormously grateful and much more “tech savvy” as an organisation."
Yak Patel, Chief Executive of Lancaster District CVS said:
"We have been using Teams alongside Zoom. Initially we found Zoom to be easier, but it has restrictions compared to Teams. We have used Teams to hold weekly meetings with our VCFSE members, deliver workshops around funding, do presentations, support groups, meet with volunteers, 1:1 supervisions and mentoring."
Mohamed Sidat, Chief Executive of Inter Madrassah said:
"The Teams app has been really useful and I can't thank you enough for it. We have the basic account but it does the job and allows us to function and operate on a day to day basis. I hope this offer can continue and the VCFS sector can continue benefiting from this."
New ways of working
Other VCFSE partners told the ICS that they have been able to use MS Teams to continue their client-facing work, which would not have been otherwise possible.
An-Nisa from Sahara Preston said:
"We have been using Microsoft Teams as a way to deliver our Zumba sessions for mothers and daughters. It has been very useful as we wanted to stress the importance of exercise and maintaining social relationships even through COVID-19. We really appreciate that Microsoft Teams is very accessible and has helped us greatly in achieving this."
Kane Dodgson, founder of mental health story-telling group The Grumpy Tea Club, said:
"I have been using Teams and finding it very useful to continue running a Peer to Peer support group in Blackpool with a mixture of people recovered and well, and those who are not so well. I have also been using it to do 1-2-1 stories with people and it's been really useful for meetings and to upload pre-recorded film and transcribe that.
The ability to record and transcribe conversations has been brilliant as I am half-deaf and dyslexic so transcribing has been so much better and faster. Being able to work mostly inside one app made productivity better. I found it to be a pretty good tool."
Alan Reid, Chief Executive Officer of Disability First said:
"Teams has been a secure and 'life-saving' piece of software during the pandemic for a charity, enabling it to remain with its core functions. We have used it in the following ways: project team and trustee Board meetings, meetings with funders, meetings with partner organisation to organise support during lockdown. The secure aspect of Teams was critical given the confidential nature of the online conversations."
VCFSE organisations have found that having free access to video-conferencing software offers the opportunity to continue working through the 'new normal', connecting and supporting the needs of the people they support without impacting on the organisation's bottom line. VCFSE organisations are often well-placed to provide grass-roots services to residents; supporting this work means that the ICS can build a relationship of mutual trust and appreciation with VCFSE partners.