To/Fro – A volunteer-resident buddying web app created for the Knowle West Alliance Covid Support Hub

Julia Williams, Bristol City Council Community Development Practitioner for Knowle West, writes…

During a weekend in April 2020, amidst the pandemic, volunteers used their digital skills as part of the European Commission’s Hackathon, resulting in an innovative solution to improve and create a localised volunteer support system in Knowle West.

Knowle West Alliance supported by Knowle West Media Centre, volunteers and I shaped a more bespoke response to the emergency support which was being delivered in the Knowle West community, the volunteer web app To/Fro: a local vision designed by Knowle West Alliance, directed by the needs and priorities of residents and the assets and contributions of local organisations, harnessing offers of help, resources and time for local residents in need of a hand.

We now have a team of volunteer coordinators trained on To/Fro, so the volunteer system once created and delivered by Bristol City Council and their Can Do Bristol volunteering platform is now connected and organised by the community for the community.

Gordon, volunteer and To/Fro coordinator says, “The app made it more appealing and user friendly. I can see what’s available and agree to help at a touch of a button. From a coordinator point of view, it’s so much easier to create a request and assign opportunities. I like the idea of this becoming a place where local people can ask for help, not just in an emergency, rather if someone is struggling they can ask, like you would a neighbour or a friend.”

Hannah, a resident volunteering since March, uses the app fitting opportunities alongside her work.

“It’s simple to use, offering easy access to requests and upcoming and ongoing actions. It gives a clear picture of what help’s needed and, once assigned, provides full task and contact details. I can log actions, feedback and hours. I like being able to have instant access, without the need to store personal details.  I love volunteering. If your life is somewhat busier but you can spare even an hour a week to do someone else’s shopping when you do yours or help with some gardening so a resident can go outside, it really is most rewarding.”

Frances Coates, Knowle West Alliance Community Development Worker, writes…

Julia and I were responsible for the volunteer coordination right from the start of the first lockdown.  It worked as we were always able to match residents with volunteers to support them with shopping, prescription collections and more, but it was a cumbersome and time-consuming system involving spreadsheets and a lot of emails back and forth.  The chance to change to a new streamlined system to provide volunteer support to residents was really welcome, but also really scary.  It’s hard to transition from a system that you know and is working to something new, especially when it involves emergency support, but this is what we did at the end of July.  And it didn’t come without difficulty…  It meant trying to get permission from over 80 volunteers on our list to put them onto this new system and then engage them in using it.  It’s been a long and tough few months and has at times felt even more challenging, but it is starting to pay off.  We have 63 volunteers on the system currently and numbers are gradually growing, as are the volunteers who are using it.  I’m pleased to say that, in all this time, no emergency request has gone unallocated.  I’m excited about the developments which are currently taking place which will enable us to use it in even more ways going forward.  I’m proud to have played a small part in this amazing innovation for the community of Knowle West.

Lucas Sweeney, Digital Innovation Producer at Knowle West Media Centre, writes…

Working on To/Fro has re-affirmed the value in bringing together community and technological experts to identify and define an issue. By collaboratively building tools which improve and augment current ways of working, people are empowered to focus on the important things, without contorting themselves around technology first.

Although initially started and scoped to help during the pandemic, we are now focussing on refining To/Fro to be a longer-term resource that brings the people of Knowle West closer and helps identify emerging needs.

All private information on To/Fro is of course hosted securely and privately within Bristol, however the underlying processes and technologies are made to be shared openly. Next year, we’re excited about the prospect of widening our focus to offer these lessons and tools to hubs around the city.

If you’re interested in volunteering to help with the Covid response in Knowle West, you can sign up here: