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Cumbrian businessman launches national system to support COVID-19 volunteer networks

Bradley Kieser, SMS Speedway

A businessman from Carlisle is now advising Government after rolling-out a national system to coordinate volunteer networks formed during COVID-19.

Brad Kieser is Director of SMS-Speedway, a company that invented the world’s first commercial text messaging service. At the start of this year, he recognised the threat Covid-19 posed to the UK and transformed his company to focus on supporting volunteer networks that formed across the country – a decision he says was due to his experience on Cumbria Forum, a business growth programme run by Lancaster University Management School.

Brad was a participant on the 2019 cohort of Cumbria Forum, a six-month programme focused on growth for senior decision makers of SMEs. The programme is designed to give participants the tools they need to design, challenge and pivot business models – skills Brad didn’t envisage he would use so soon.

“The Cumbria Forum was as well timed as it could possibly be,” Brad explains. “At the start of the year we realised the gravity of the situation and it was clear Covid-19 would affect nearly all our customers. We knew communication would be key to helping people arrange their response and that sharing important information would empower people to take appropriate action.

“The time spent on the Forum to truly understand our business helped us ensure a rapid transformation of our services to our customers in response to the ‘new normal’. It helped identify what we are as a business and the value we bring to clients.”

Brad realised the company had the in-house knowledge, technology and experience required to help the national effort. So, he pivoted his entire business, all services and staff, to focus on working with volunteers to share valuable information to help establish the right structures, safety procedures and communication lines with councils to get taskforces up and running effectively.

Brad continues: “Volunteers are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They stepped forward to do things that they had no knowledge or experience of – sewing scrubs and making PPE for the NHS, for example. Unfortunately, there were no blueprints for organising a volunteer force – no ‘how-to’ guides. There was no information available on how to set up and run a volunteer group and they faced a crisis when it came to IT – as the groups were mainly set up by non-IT people. This is where we could help.

“The response we had to our business transformation was tremendous. We had unexpectedly generous donations from suppliers, enabling us to scale our new Covid-19 assistance service up to a national level. We also had extremely valuable contributions from volunteers who assisted in all things, from research and project management, to helping us build the new capabilities.”

SMS Speedway tailored their system to provide the volunteer networks with a new, specialist service free of charge to help them with communication and organisation capability. Due to its success it was rolled out to volunteer networks nationally- and Brad was invited to become an advisor of the UK Government, feeding in important information about the real-world situation as well as anticipated future problems and challenges.

Having researched and shared information needed for individuals, volunteers and volunteer groups to respond to the challenges, SMS Speedway is now turning its attention to helping organisations return to business in the ‘new normal’ – providing technology solutions that, thanks to the ongoing sponsorship of its suppliers, are again free of charge.

“Our focus now is on assisting small, local businesses to restart as lockdown eases,” Brad adds. “We have been honoured to be able to help not only the local but national picture, and I’m extremely proud of our business, staff and suppliers for rising to the challenge and being bold enough to shift out of our comfort zone and provide a much-needed service.

“Cumbria Forum, without doubt, gave me the ability and confidence to act at the right time. The trusted peer network you gain through the programme is priceless and we have become almost like a family during this crisis. There is a genuine care for each other which has led to some surprising results – solutions for completely different businesses with unrelated products can provide inspiration for your own business and circumstances. We are currently working with Cambridge University to test a potential solution for rapid Covid-19 disinfecting, for example, inspired in part by an idea from a group member for something entirely unrelated.”

Ewan Pullan, Project Manager for Cumbria Forum said: “Brad has been truly inspirational in pivoting his business to meet the needs of both regional and national businesses.  It is so rewarding to see him develop himself and his business from engaging with the Cumbria Forum programme and to then use this learning to the benefit of others.”

Cumbria Forum is a business growth programme, part of the Cumbria Growth Hub, and delivered by Lancaster University Management School (LUMS). It is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and available to ERDF eligible businesses. LUMS has a range of solutions to support Cumbrian businesses following Covid-19 pandemic. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit www.lancaster.ac.uk/lums/business/smeprogrammes  or email [email protected]

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