Response programme hailed 

A free online tool launched in Hamilton to support communities through Covid is helping hundreds of Waipā people.

‘Here to help u’ is a community response website aimed at making it easier for people to access hardship and social service support.  While it grew out of a pandemic and still caters to Covid-related needs, the tool has expanded to offer access to anyone seeking support at any time.

Each response received goes through a network of ‘community connectors’ who tap into service providers to meet the requirements of those needing help.

The secure digital system was developed by the Hamilton-based NGO, the Wise Group, in March 2020 and launched there a month later.  It was at a time when organisations normally reliant on volunteers were struggling to operate as workers went into lockdown.

Its soft launch into Cambridge and the wider Waipā district in early March signified a move to extend the initiative’s coverage.  Since then, ‘Here to help u’ has assisted more than 1500 people across Waipā.

Felicity Beadle, who does special projects (comms and engagement) with the Wise Group, said requests from Waipā generally cover food parcels, cleaning supplies, hygiene and sanitary products, pet food, baby products and the like.

“In the two years since ‘Here to help u’ started, no-one has fallen through the cracks.  Our connections with other organisations have enabled us to assist in all cases,” she said, “and at least 80 percent of those seeking help get a response in under 24 hours.”

Felicity said one of the tool’s strengths is that it makes it easy to ask for help, particularly for newly-vulnerable individuals or families who have never been in that situation before.  Other benefits are that it is free to the end-user, requires no face-to-face contact, and the website integrates with a wide network of providers.   New features are continually being added to strengthen its effectiveness and flexibility.
Corren Ngerengere, community advisor with the Waipā District Council, linked up with Felicity 18 months ago.

“At that stage of the pandemic, I was having to manually triage calls for help in our community.  I loved the way the ‘Here to help u’ streamlined efficiencies, so we pooled our resources to broaden its reach,” she said.  “It is important to have a system that makes people feel comfortable about reaching out.   ‘Here to help u’ does that, and then does the heavy lifting needed to provide that help.  It frees up the providers to do what they do best.”

Felicity said most requests are submitted online, with a freephone number (0800 568 273) used by those without digital access.  A high number of people are using a mobile phone to submit a help request on the website, and feedback from users suggests connectors are successful in meeting needs.

Corren said the initiative can only be as good as the back-end support given by providers in the wider community.  “This system means we can be more collaborative in meeting needs,” she said. “The response has been phenomenal.”

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