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Hastings HEART builds a volunteer powerhouse to serve locals in need

A nonprofit that launched in response to COVID in early 2020 continued to scale its work to help the community of Hastings.


  • 1K
  • volunteers
  • 6K+
  • tasks completed
  • 5
  • team members

When the pandemic hit the small town of Hastings in England last year, locals Alastair Fairley and Kim Batty understood that, as COVID went through their community, many who had already been struggling could be left to fend for themselves, isolated both physically and emotionally. The two knew that the situation called for fast-moving support and stepped up to lead the charge. With a variety of skills between them, they co-founded the mutual aid group Hastings HEART (Hastings Emergency Action Resilience Team), intent on rallying together a volunteer base to support locals in need. 

Once they started outreach, they were taken aback by the immense interest they received in response. With an energized volunteer base ready to take action, it was clear that they’d need a digital infrastructure to efficiently manage their fast-growing supporter community. They’d heard about NationBuilder’s toolset from a fellow community organizer. They were pleasantly surprised to find that the platform was being offered free of charge to those working on COVID emergency response at the timeand they signed up.

Fairley reflects saying: “We had no idea just how quickly [our volunteers] were going to rise in numbers. . . if we hadn't set up this [NationBuilder] process right from the start, we would never have been able to keep track of them - that enabled us to grow developmentally once we took the plunge.”

Through the rest of 2020, they focused on connecting vulnerable community members to capable volunteers who could help with one-off tasks like grocery pick-up, dog walking, transport to appointments, or medicine drop-off. They used tags in their NationBuilder database to keep track of critical volunteer information like whether a volunteer had a car, insurance, or had been background checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service. By the end of 2020, HEART’s volunteer base served over 1000 members in the community.

When the initial chaos of the pandemic slowed down four to five months into their work, the co-founders had a decision to make: should they shut down the operation or keep it going? The answer felt clearthey knew their work had only just begun.

“We could have gone ‘Well, the worst of the pandemic is over. We can pull up the shutters and shut up shop. We've managed to cope with the worst of the emergency and the lockdowns.’ We all decided, actually, that would be really pathetic. We’d actually discovered there was [not only] this massive need within the community for this kind of help, but that there was a massive will within the community to help––and we had a role to play in that,” says Fairley. 

With that knowledge, they charged full speed ahead into 2021. As they did, they noted something elsethat community members who requested help often struggled with more than just the one-off task they’d flagged for HEART. 

On this learning, Batty says: “A lot of these people who are coming to us - it’s only the tip of the things they need help with. We go ‘oh my goodness, you need shopping. Well, how come you can't shop online? How come you can't get to the shop?’. . . it’s a complex set of needs. Some of these things require a referral, some we can help you with.” 

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This realization led the HEART team to launch a new offering this past year: Home Connect. This service puts the focus on longer-term support with six weeks of care from a HEART volunteer. During that time, the volunteer assists the community member with the tasks they’ve reached out on while keeping an eye out for other related areas in which they might need help. This way, they can equip anyone who is struggling with additional resources that can help them move forward on a path toward independencewhether from a practical, physical, social, psychological or financial standpoint. To do this, HEART also works closely with other local organizations like the Citizens Advice Bureau, referring people out when necessary so they can access certain kinds of help that go beyond their volunteer base’s capacity. 

Given the roll-out of vaccines in early 2021, the HEART team has spent the last six months heavily focused on supporting the vaccination program in the community. They’ve worked to lower barriers to vaccination by distributing “Grab a jab” flyers to residential homes. The flyers help provide clear instructions to residents on where and when they can get their vaccine or booster. HEART has also provided transportation to and from vaccination or hospital appointments after noticing how cuts in those services and rising costs to patients were affecting accessibility to treatment. And to help staff vaccine centers working to meet the rising demand for vaccine, HEART has provided dozens of marshalls to help manage queues and direct people at clinics, while also furnishing the program with volunteers meeting specific healthcare qualifications to add to the local vaccinator capacity. After filtering their database for these professionals, it was quick and easy to reach out via email asking them to come on boardand many have. 

For these and their other initiatives, they’ve also utilized filtering by zip code in their NationBuilder database, which made it very easy to identify volunteers who were in relevant areas for door dropping flyers or driving patients. This way, HEART could make the ask of the volunteers for whom it might be most convenient to take part in the task and avoid undue stress. 

“We had to develop all sorts of guidelines and ways of processing volunteers to help them feel supported. . . to help them through that journey and make sure that we monitored their tasks. We've now created a quite sophisticated but nimble process for people to volunteer with us, but be able to volunteer safely. . . We've got volunteer coordinators, they have their own handbook, home connectors, their handbook is written. As soon as you submit an application, you get a set of guidelines. So we've made sure that there's real rigor.”

To keep their supporter base engaged, they send out regular newsletters customized to different types of volunteers, detailing information according to their skillset, or the type of work they signed up to do.

With the pandemic nowhere near over, there’s no doubt their work will continue to be invaluable to the Hastings community in the months ahead, but beyond that, Fairley and Batty have built something that will long outlive the needs presented by the pandemicsomething that’s changed the very fabric of the Hastings community for good.

Batty speaks on their impact, saying: “It never ceases to amaze me. When Alastair and I aren't busy going to meetings, trying to talk to people about how we do stuff. . . and we suddenly find we’re working with a volunteer or talking to a client directly. . . [and we think] ‘I can't believe that you did that. That's got sorted, and that person helped you. And they've been doing that really well.’ You're just like ‘wow,’ and it makes you go ‘Oh, yes. That's what we're here for.’”

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