Supporting the redistribution of meals with apps
App Advisory Rowan Van Tromp shares how investing in tech adoption has enabled Norwich FoodHub to support community organisations helping vulnerable people.
In 2016, I co-founded Norwich FoodHub following a period of volunteering for Norwich FoodCycle which exposed me to the serious levels of food waste in our country and across the world.
Technology has been critical to growth of the organisation, but it didn’t start out tech-heavy. We actually started quite paper-based, but this quickly became unmanageable and more technology was incorporated to the processes. Over time, the tech-stack has developed to do increasingly more admin and allow us to expand significantly on low-budget and low-resource.
NorwichFoodHub is a community interest company that coordinates volunteers to collect food otherwise wasted by supermarkets using an app called 10to8 Booking. The surplus is brought to the central hub for sorting and storage, where it is then collected by not-for-profit organisations working with vulnerable people. The homeless, victims of domestic abuse, refugees, asylum seekers, elderly and socially isolated people are among the local community vulnerable groups who are provided for.
Our volunteers and staff are key workers and we have taken extra safety measures to ensure the service can continue to run during COVID-19
In 2019 we saved 40 tonnes of food from being wasted. This allowed our charitable partners to provide more than 96,000 meals to those in need throughout the city, an average of 265 meals every day. This year, Norwich FoodHub is on track to provide over 125,000 meals (342 meals per day).
We do this with a shoe-string budget, managed through the efficient use of cloud technology.
Accounting apps used by Norwich FoodHub
- nettTracker is a fixed assets management app that automatically posts depreciation journals to our QuickBooks Online account- Free
- Receipt Bank is used to manage receipts and invoices. We fetch invoices from some of the other software we use to automate as much of the bookkeeping as possible.
- QuickBooks Online is used as our bookkeeping software.
Both our Receipt Bank and QuickBooks Online accounts are kindly provided to us at no cost by Peter and Kayvan at PJCO Accountants, in addition to providing payroll support.
The tech stack
Our tech stack was built to help us manage aspects that are critical to the success of the project.
As a volunteer-led project, automating as much as possible is key to reducing the amount of time it takes to coordinate everything given the scale of food we collect for our resources (time and money). On a budget of around £10,000p/a we are on course to provide 12.5 meals for every £1 we have (an estimated retail value of £250,000) – emphasising the need to automate.
We need to be able to communicate effectively and transparently across a wide range of stakeholders – staff, supermarkets, volunteers, and the wider community.
Total cost: £799 per annum
10to8 booking – £288 (inc VAT) p/a
Booking app 10to8 is at the heart of the success of our volunteer management. Without this we would not be able to operate at the scale we do with our resources. All of the collections we have available from partner supermarkets are scheduled here for volunteers to sign up.
Volunteers get text messages and email reminders for their collection slots and can also leave a review after they’ve finished which can help identify issues we need to resolve. They can also reply to these, notifying us.
Slack – communications app (free)
We use Slack integrations to assist in making real-time data available to the team. A couple of examples include:
Real-time information on volunteer bookings coming through from Google Calendar (linked to 10to8 Booking), as well as new volunteer sign-ups (Google Form), coming into our vol-coordinators channel.
Our staff post in photos of each day’s collections and any issues they have in the foodhub-leaders channel.
Zapier – £198 p/a
Zapier allows us to move data between different apps. We have several different ‘Zaps’ (Zapier integrations):
Step 1: We receive a new response to our volunteer agreement Google Form
Step 2: A notification is sent to our volunteer coordinators’ Slack channel, including some relevant info from the form.
Step 3: The sign up also triggers an email to be sent out with instructions about volunteering and next steps.
Step 4: In addition, the volunteer is added to our audience in Mailchimp.
Whenever a volunteer signs up for a collection using 10to8 booking, some details are sent to a Google Sheet that allows us to get reporting information on volunteers.
GSuite – £66.62 (inc VAT) p/a
Aside from Gmail, we use Google Docs to share guidance on how to complete all of our collections. This is sent out to all volunteers as part of their reminders for collections, so they can easily access it.
We also use Google Forms and Sheets to record and report on all of the food we collect from each store, categorised according to food type, and where it is redistributed.
Google Drive is used to store all of our key documents and make them accessible to people that need them.
Our Facebook page links to our volunteer sign up form. We also have a closed group to communicate with over 200 volunteers about collections. We have a following of over 2,000 and have made clever use of paid posts at times to grow engagement. For instance, one article we promoted was released when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ran his food waste documentary – achieving over 10,000 views and leading to a wave of new volunteers.
Deputy £12 p/m: A time-tracking and reporting app for staff timesheets.
Wix £102.75 p/a: Our website is built on Wix. It’s simple but effective, and also have a live feed of information about where the food is being redistributed and
Mailchimp (free): Mailchimp is used to send out monthly newsletters, with the help of our brilliant marketing team (all volunteers).
Hootsuite (free): We use social media management platform Hootsuite to schedule social posts across Twitter and Facebook.
Zoom (free): We’re currently running bi-weekly online meetings on Zoom to coordinate the project.
Asana (free): A project management app used by our marketing sub-team to coordinate tasks and design work.
Think carefully about the problems you are trying to solve when building a tech-stack for your business, or when helping your clients to build theirs.
Once you begin researching and evaluating apps, getting detailed, impartial advice from people that have experience using and implementing software to solve problems is key to saving time and making the right choices.