Innovative Peterborough and Cambs charity proves a ratings hit during Covid
Live debates, call-ins, Boris Johnson announcements and information videos - no, this is not the BBC’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic but an innovative local charity which has seen more than one million minutes of its material viewed online.
Cambridgeshire Deaf Association supports hundreds of people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and like all charities has had to adapt to a loss of face-to-face services over the past year.
But not to be deterred, it has combined on the ground support such as food parcels with a wealth of live video shows which are accessible for deaf people and have so far clocked up more than 16,500 hours of viewing time.
As Andy Palmer, the charity’s chief executive, explained: “Since the lockdown happened and we began shutting services face-to-face and delivering more info online we’ve had over one million minutes of people watching, which is more than 16,500 hours.
“We’ve focused on providing info on sign language. It started during Covid because we couldn’t see people face-to-face. The opportunity to see people at drop-ins significantly reduced.
“So we invested time and effort to make our video content more professional and watchable. When announcements are made by Boris we’ve tried to cover those, but not in a person to camera way but conversationally with a couple of people talking about what’s happened.
“For Boris’ announcements there was always a translator on BBC News, but as soon as the briefing was over and they went into studio you’d have a presenter and journalist summarising what had been said, but the interpreter had gone. We tried to fill that gap.
“Then we progressed - doing videos is quite time intensive so we tried to shift away from pre-recorded to doing things live as there is no post-editing. Once we started doing more live stuff in November we really ramped up the amount of hours we produced and the number of viewers started to take off as they could feed in comments.
“We pioneered phone-in shows. In the hearing world people listen to radio shows and call in with questions. That’s not accessible for deaf people, an up-to-date discussion on today’s events where people can talk about it.
“We pioneered that and put on a couple of live discussions about vaccinations. We did a Boris Johnson lockdown announcement then allowed people to call in like with a radio station.
“We do a football show every week where they can call in, and even on Monday night we did a show about the new super league for almost an hour and a half. The presenter took calls from people locally and nationally on the topic.
“It’s done on Zoom. People click a link in the chat and it puts them straight through to the studio. They can see the presenter, the presenter can see them and off they go.
“We also do a British Sign Language quiz every week called ‘catch me if you can’.”
The videos have gone down a massive hit with the community.
“On every video there are people commenting either that they really like the video or are thankful. You can see from the number of people watching,” Andy said.
“In terms of the loyalty of people who return, we’ve had up to 2,000 people a week who are returning to watch something else.
“Most views are not live - I’d say three-quarters are watching at a time of their choosing later on.”
The charity has also hosted three community events a week online during the pandemic, sent befrienders to meet people in their gardens when allowed, delivered food and handed over iPads, including for survivors of domestic abuse thanks to a grant.
The wide-ranging work marks the charity’s evolution from a team of six or seven in 2015 to one of 90 today, including volunteers and trustees.
Andy added: “I took over in 2014. At the time there was a lot of unmet need in the area.
“We’ve extended professional advocacy, supported domestic abuse survivors and set up a befriending scheme so people feeling isolated in the community could connect with them.
“Sign language tuition has expanded - we’ve taught hundreds of people. We’ve also set up a team of people who provide personal care. That’s where bulk of our staff are.
“Deaf people in care with additional needs can really struggle to make their wishes felt to carers who can’t sign which can lead to anxiety and stress and lead to them being misdiagnosed.
“Since setting up the care team that’s expanded and we have around 20 clients and around 25 staff.
“We’re still going strong. We’re in a good position. We get a lot of support and have a uniquely skilled staff. With that capacity around that bodes well for the future.”