01st May 2020

Resident in Focus: Sarah Scullion, Founder of Integra and Covid-19 Community Support Platform

Each month we feature one of our amazing residents and highlight the work they’re doing within the Ormeau Baths community along with their experience within the world of entrepreneurship. This month things look a little different for a lot of our members including this month’s Resident in Focus, Sarah Scullion.

Sarah, founder of Integra and part of the 2020 Propel cohort, used her entrepreneurial skills and intuition to set up and launch a Covid-19 Community Support, a platform connecting those who are offering support with those that need it most.

Read on to find out more about the work Sarah and her team of 700 volunteers are doing along with the advice she would give to entrepreneurs facing uncertainty right now.

Tell us about the work you’re doing within the Covid-19 Community Support network?

We’ve created a community of over 700 volunteers with a dedicated admin team who are coordinating COVID-19 support across the 11 council districts of Northern Ireland. Over 100 people who have recently found themselves in vulnerable situations have used our system to be matched with volunteers who are very keen to help, many on an ongoing basis.

We actively request feedback from both the volunteers and those receiving support to ensure we are doing everything we can to meet their needs and keep them safe. It goes without saying that safeguarding is of paramount importance in the midst of COVID-19. While it is recognised that volunteers are making a fast and effective response to the issues caused by COVID-19, we have also been working on our policies and procedures to ensure that we can continue helping people for as long as our services are needed.

COVID-19 Community Support is operated by our social enterprise, Community Calling Ltd, which is also working in partnership with SureCert, a digital platform specialising in background checks relating to job and volunteering opportunities. SureCert recently won the NHSx Techforce19 competition to deploy technology to help vulnerable people isolated by COVID-19, so we have joined forces to provide support to those who need care in the community

The community support we provide includes:

Prescriptions runs Shopping runs Post runs Friendly phone calls Tailored support

The tailored support ranges from basic needs i.e. access to food and financial support to signposting for benefits advice, homecare and mental health support.

We have a 7 step support process:

What inspired you to set up the support platform?

I had been in isolation myself for 5 days when I thought of the idea. It was sparked after my sister-in-law mentioned that she and my brother-in-law wanted to start delivering things to the elderly. I thought it was such a lovely gesture but due to how sick my 1-year-old daughter was at the time, I was concerned about the transmission of infection to the elderly and people at higher risk. I wondered if there were any guidelines in place for community groups and also, how they manage personal data.

I found that many community support groups across the UK (particularly England) were seeking a means of managing data, processes and procedures in line with legislation and guidelines. I thought, perhaps, I could set up a system that would solve this problem whilst, at the same time, allow me, as someone in isolation, to play a part in helping the community as well.

I bought the domain https://covid19community.org/ on 15th March and we had our first registration on the 16th! I wasn’t ready at all but I just ran with it. We’ve now had almost 1,000 registrations in total between volunteers, support groups, organisations, volunteer requests and admins. I had to ask everyone not to share for a couple of weeks from the 5th of April because I was getting hammered with requests. Somehow I made it through the initial 2 weeks and managed to get all the requests matched, all whilst onboarding the volunteers and looking after a toddler. I was very lucky to have a close friend who shadowed me, quickly took to the process and started jumping on and allowing me to take some breaks. Shout out to Charmayne Milliken for saving me!

How can people get involved in the community support that you’ve set up?

Our website calls for people who need support and people who can offer it. It’s a really simple registration process. Just sign up here: https://covid19community.org/

Who can get involved?

Anyone who needs support and anyone who can offer it. In some cases, people fall into both categories. For instance, one of our key admins joined our network by submitting a support request as she is in the shielding group. When I asked for feedback on how things were going with her volunteer she said she’d love to give something back. She registered as a volunteer who could help with admin and friendly phone calls; now she is working on a rota to cover requests throughout the week whilst in isolation.

What are some of the coping mechanisms you’ve adopted to try and stay positive during lockdown?

Keeping busy helps me to stay positive. Volunteering and getting this project up and running has had a huge part to play in that. I’m not going lie, it hasn’t been easy and I am so grateful for my family, friends and colleagues for keeping me sane. I think it’s really important to talk about how you are feeling. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, there are services like ours available for friendly phone calls, video chats and emails. We need to stay connected despite the distance.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur over the last few weeks and since setting up the Covid-19 Community Support platform?

There is an incredible amount of value in building a strong community ❤️

Going forward, has the Covid-19 outbreak impacted your approach to business and entrepreneurship?

I waited for years to start Integra Bookings Ltd (my event tourism startup); I had COVID-19 Community Support up and running in a day. I will have a little more courage after this!

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs right now?

I realise everyone’s situation is different but if I could go back in time and give myself advice, I would say, don’t wait to launch, just launch and see what happens.