Stretford Public Hall is a community-owned nonprofit event space in southwest Manchester, serving a thriving neighbourhood of about 50,000 people. The organisation is located in an old heritage building that was taken on in 2015 and is being restored as a multipurpose venue for arts, culture, heritage and a range of wellbeing services for the community.
As COVID-19 swept the world, Stretford Public Hall had no choice but to close the building down, but they wanted to find a way to continue supporting the community from a distance.
Resources at a distance
Trafford council, the local governing authority, needed Stretford Public Hall to become a community response hub. They set up a central number as a resource line that would refer community members to the right organisations. Simon Borkin, one of Stretford Public Hall’s trustees explained that due to the urgency of COVID-19, the council requested they launch within a week.
“We didn't quite know how we were going to put it all together, but we knew we needed a helpline.”
Stretford Public Hall became a service for the most vulnerable community members who might be isolated or didn't have existing support networks to deliver food, perform routine shopping tasks, pick up medication and check in regularly.
“There are issues around digital literacy in our community, especially amongst older residents, and there are some people who only own a landline, so reaching out over the phone is by far the best way to contact people.”
Stretford Public Hall chose Aircall because of its simplicity and the ability to configure their entire phone system fast. They also knew their phone solution would have to be remote work compatible.
“We wanted a phone system where our volunteers could use it from home. We needed to be cautious, and it’s helped us keep the staff away from each other instead of having to come into the Hall to get their work done.”
They started by putting a call routing system in place to make sure calls were going to the right representatives and arranged morning and afternoon shifts for employees.
Their phone system is aligned with the local council’s main helpline, so they adjusted business hours to close at four and set up voicemail for after-hours. Voicemail notifications have become particularly helpful during peak hours.
“Our calls are quite long, especially if we’re checking in on someone’s well being, it can be 15 to 20 minutes… it’s helpful to have voicemail notifications come in through email so we know when to call someone back.”
Organising tickets with Aircall and Zendesk
Stretford Public Hall started using Zendesk for free during the pandemic, which effectively integrated with Aircall. The integration automatically creates a help ticket and tags every call. This gave them one central system for their shared calls and tickets, creating a more efficient workflow.
“It let us invest our time and attention toward calls and we could actually take notes to make sure that we got all the information. Since calls come in as Zendesk tickets, we don’t have to spend as much time managing triage.”
Reporting and managing workflows
The team has been using Aircall’s tags for reporting purposes, particularly for “well being” calls which are categorised separately from other service calls.
“We want to understand how many of our calls are immediate requests and how many of them are following up or checking in on people.”
Currently, Stretford Public Hall uses Aircall data to report back to the local authority, their main sponsor who helped fund the response hub during COVID-19.
“We’re providing valuable data up the chain of command. They want to know that we're doing a good job, and they want to know how much demand there is for our services.”
Simon also uses the data to help inform them about how much stock they're going to need for food bank deliveries, assessing household demand within the community as people call in for weekly orders.
“It also helps us estimate how many volunteers you need on the phone lines, and at what point we can reduce that number.”
While they initially staffed phones with 10-12 volunteers per week with two per shift answering new enquiries, there was a support team in the background calling people back once they figured out the right support. Eventually they were able to monitor call volume and over time could reduce the number to just one person per shift.
A foundation for support services
Stretford Public Hall knows that they might start to see a drop off in services as the community begins to open up again, but they also recognize that they might see demand for their services in a completely different context.
“We've invested in how we provide support now, and we’re in a better position to mobilise this kind of support again if necessary.”
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