2022 Q1 look-back

2022 Q1 look-back


Every quarter we run with a theme to provide a framework for our priorities and steer our project management processes.

This time, with fingers firmly crossed that our new booking hub could rise to the challenge of thousands of new users, Project Soufflé, became both our recipe and prayer book as we tried to ensure things didn't collapse into an eggy mess...

Big rocks are essentially large chunks of work that can be split into smaller tasks across the team and organised by swimlane. We have 9 swimlanes to cover: break delivery, carers, community partners, corp governance, fundraising, hospitality partners, marcomms, operations and tech. So although all the management books tell you it's best to pick 5-10 big rocks per quarter, we always end up with closer to 20 (circa 100-150 tasks) and even if we don't complete them all we'll have made some good inroads into most of them.

Here's our outturn from Project Soufflé:


And the pithy highlights:

  1. We got our first national newspaper coverage with this Telegraph feature
  2. I was highly commended at the WISE100 awards and we made the Third Sector Best Digital Innovation shortlist with our travel-tech partner Impala
  3. Many carers made many memories on their stays. Some of which we got to share in this film made with Jeff Brazier and the People's Postcode Lottery

What project management doesn't show you...

Is the core activities of your everyday operation that will take up the majority of your team's time. In our case this breaks down as:

  • Onboarding and supporting community partner organisations to make referrals 14 new partners this quarter meaning Peter and Sarine are now coordinating breaks delivery with 90 social sector organisations across the country.
  • Proactive outreach, customer support and processing of break booking requests 593 requests in Q1 with circa 2000 customer support activities handled by Christiana and Michele who have recently joined us and over 5000 self-managed by carers!
  • Maintenance of our donated supply pipeline and work to secure new commitments Stella signed 3 new hotel groups this quarter so we'll finally be able to open up more breaks in London, as most of our operations are across the north of England, Scotland and Wales.
  • The continuous flow of bug fixes, quick-win UX improvements and automations that enable pretty much EVERYTHING to operate. Though Joey is a miracle worker this is not a one-man job and it's our tightest area of operational capacity.
  • General marcomms work to sign-up new carers reaching 1,121 carers this quarter so just shy of our 1,300 target. Every carer verification has a human eyeball on it so another thing that clocks up staff hours.

I cite these numbers because most funders use how much time you spend with a beneficiary to assess the value of the service you provide. And though this may be a measure that suits many, it doesn't give any scope for organisations doing systems work, whose social intervention is only made possible through engagement and collaboration with a variety of stakeholder groups connected to delivery.

This nuance has disqualified us from applying for or receiving funding from nearly all trusts and foundations designed to support carer wellbeing on the grounds that a break is only a 1-3 night intervention, despite the vast majority of carers repeatedly identifying a break as the thing that would make the biggest difference to their quality of life.

90% of our service users wouldn't have been able to take a break without us, 98% have seen an improvement in their wellbeing and the break away has tripled the number of people reporting that they feel able to cope with their caring role. Is any other carer intervention seeing these sorts of numbers?

I worry for the fate of social innovation when grant application processes are set up to identify why you can't be supported without providing a space to understand if your new approach could achieve better outcomes for beneficiaries.

For example, whilst the DCMS just paid £600,000 to buy 800 family breaks for carers, we spent £400k last year and secured 32,000 donated nights valued at £3.2m, which we expect to translate into 8000 breaks by the end of 2023. In time, with 140,000 vacant hotel rooms in the UK every week, we could see all 2 million full-time carers get access to an annual break through Carefree without placing any additional financial burden on the public purse.

To us, this is exactly the kind of social innovation that can set a path for a more sustainable care future but without new funds to maintain and expand the team beyond 6 people, we have no chance of fully utilising the donated hotel supply we have secured to support their recovery from the pandemic this year.

New priorities; bad priorities

Being the CEO at a time of scale - navigating new complex problems, bringing in new people and getting your first taste of media attention should be hard AND fun.

Instead, I've been under the thumb of others' bad business practices. The request to Metro Bank to update our trading address so we can claim a grant that took hours of calls, the numerous emails to secure the return of our rental deposit from Second Home and the insane process of getting a share certificate updated with Link Group so that we can access reserves held in donated shares if needed.

I learnt at a Spill talk recently that burnout happens when you consistently aren't making progress towards the right goals for three weeks straight. I have to say I find myself weathered by this quarter and the incurable admin list of essential work that blocks work on securing our financial future.

So where do we go from here?

On to Shelling Peas.

I promise we'll get away from food pun titles for our project cycles at some point! But having done the intense work to optimise our booking processes this quarter, we'd like to cross the threshold to business as usual in the next and triple our delivery numbers so that more carers can get the chance to feel like this 👇


Thank you for reading and if anyone wants to dive deeper into anything I've shared here just give me a shout!