We talk to Joey Ceunen, CTO of Carefree, a new breed of charity that marries technology with community spirit to solve critical challenges.
Tell us about the charity, how did this unique idea come about?
There are around 9 million remarkable individuals in the UK who provide unpaid care, saving the economy £132 billion each year. Full-time carers very often have little opportunity to rest or relax. Many struggle to make ends meet. And most of them rarely take a break. At Carefree, we transform vacant accommodation into vital breaks for unpaid carers. This idea of giving every full-time unpaid carer access to short breaks was conceived by two brothers, Charlie and James Ricketts, whose own experiences motivated them to launch the initiative.
The Community Partners we work with – Local Authorities, Carer Support Networks or Voluntary/Community Organisations – refer full-time, unpaid carers to us. Our Hospitality Partners, hotels and holiday lets, donate unused hotel rooms for a 3-day stay or empty holiday cottages for a 4 to 7-day break. Carefree provides a flexible, responsive, user-friendly platform – carefreespace.org – to all stakeholders, so carers can book available accommodation and actually have some quality time for themselves.
What IT challenges have you overcome?
Initially, we faced many challenges trying to satisfy the diverse requirements of our stakeholders. As a charity, we have very limited budgets, so custom solutions are often unrealistic to build and maintain. Therefore, we took a no-code/low-code approach to development. We have an agile “build-try-test-repeat” approach and are constantly refining and improving our products through efficient user feedback loops.
We made the platform as user-friendly as possible. Carers are very time-poor and we did not want to burden them with complicated processes. The same goes for our accommodation partners, who need a flexible, responsive system so room availability is always up-to-date and easy to manage.
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How has Carefree adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Lockdown has been a challenge! When everyone started working from home, we quickly expanded our shared document spaces and communication tools. We use Google Workspace for day-to-day work and employ many other collaboration tools such as Slack, Front and Linear as and when needed.
Despite lockdown, we have been recruiting. We had to give up our lovely co-working space in London, so on-boarding new colleagues became a remote process. As a result, we have had to rely on video introductions and, so everyone has a reference point for questions, procedures and documents, we have created a centralised knowledge hub in Notion.
What are your plans to expand the service?
If there was a single positive side of lockdown, it drew a lot of media and public attention to vulnerable people and the people who care for them. We are planning several campaigns to raise more funds and recruit further corporate patrons on the back of this heightened awareness.
We are also currently talking to an innovative global hotel booking API with the aim of recruiting more hotels and holiday lets for the scheme, getting us ready to scale. With more accommodation on offer, we will be able to expand the availability of breaks and the choice of locations across the UK (and beyond!).