Murtz July 18, 2012

Casserole: 74 meals worth of learning

Murtz

Casserole is a service that connects neighbours with spare portions of food to those in their community who need a good home cooked meal. A community food sharing network, Casserole uses delicious food to bring people together to tackle social isolation and loneliness and have some fun along the way too!

Eight months into its development (in partnership with Surrey County Council through our Futures Programme and through funding from the Design Council and TSB Independence Matters) we are pleased to announce the launch the latest version of the Casserole service. We now have over 90 people signed up (half of which are in the Reigate and Banstead area), have helped share 74 meals (76 by the end of the week!), and hope to see these numbers continue to grow.

Casserole has been developed hand in hand with the people who use it; testing ideas quickly through simple technology and service design. At the start, our set up consisted of little more than a mobile phone, a map and some phone numbers of neighbours interested in cooking for others. Over a two week period, and with some contacts from Reigate and Banstead Council, we tested our idea to see whether cooking for your neighbour really is as easy as it sounds and that people would be as keen to be involved as we hoped.

We’ve come a long way since that two week trial, and have learned some valuable lessons, largely thanks to user feedback from our members. To give you some insight into how our lessons have influenced the current version of Casserole, here are a few things we’ve picked up along our journey:

Communication

The earliest version of Casserole's matching system

Casserole’s message is straightforward but communicating can be difficult given the age range (20-92 years old), various means of communication, how long different people have been involved with the service, and computer literacy of our members. Helping our earliest members move from completely offline communication to more digital means proved to be harder than we thought, especially as new users joined and numbers grew.

We have always tried to talk to our members in the way they prefer. We quickly found that some users prefer text messages, others phone calls or emails. This works well for now, but we are trying out ways of keeping the personal approach as we grow and communicate more.

Offline

Offline support and engagement has always been at the heart of Casserole. We encourage members to get involved online, but also try to get out and speak to our customers face to face as well, especially given we know that many of those we are most trying to reach may not be online at all. We will never stop our offline engagement, but as the service has grown, our methods of offline engagement have had to change – from our side, face to face meet-ups with every member have become difficult, although phone calls, regularly speaking to our members, and staging community events to build trust and relationships offline is something we continue to do.

From our lunch table event in Redhill (check out the video above), we also found that having even a small event for members to meet and mingle is a great way to keep the community buzzing about the service and is definitely something we will continue.

Money

Money is always tricky business, especially when brought into a context like Casserole, where the ethos is one of social good. Our first idea was simple – choose a time when you’re already cooking and make an extra plate to deliver to someone in your area, with no money involved.

But we quickly found that Diners wanted to contribute financially to these meals – they did not want food charity, but for food to be about community buidling and the service to be about mutual respect. At the same time, we were discovering that cooking for Casserole could potentially put a financial strain on cooks over time. With this in mind, we developed an optional payment system where cooks could choose to charge a little (usually the cost of ingredients) for their plate of food or serve it up for free.

Fast feedback showed that what we thought was a balanced solution for everyone, actually made things more confusing – mixing money early on can sometimes take away from the caring aspect of the service.

Our idea now reflects everything we’ve learned from people and what they think of the service: It’s easy to sign up and give sharing a meal a go and there’s no price barriers because you’re making a difference with a spare plate of food.  If you want to be matched with someone to cook for them more often, Casserole’s ‘Pair Up’ feature can help and can organise payments.

We are also likely to be reintroducing an option for Diners to decide how much they want to pay for their dinner rather than the Cooks. Remember how Radiohead gave you the option to pay what you wanted for their album? Something along those lines.

Social impact

Members show off their curries at our first Casserole cookery class

One of our measures for social impact is the number of people we introduce through Casserole. Keeping track of how many meals have been served also helps show the activity of the community, but they also act as stepping stones into developing lasting relationships. Through discussions and observations of the community, we realised that deeper relationships were forming around the more routine meals. One-off meals are turning out to be a great entry point into Casserole, but it’s the long-term, regular sharing of meals between two people that directly relates to the growth of good relationships.

These types of relationships show more “real” activity but less “site” activity. Before introducing “Pair Up,” we hadn’t offered a simpler way for people to set up regular meal shares with someone they know through Casserole, so we lost some activity as these connections were continued away from the site. Pair Up now helps people establish these regular meals and sends reminders by email (text by autumn this year) and automatically accounts for the meal shared on your Casserole profile. Through this type of change we’re managing to build stronger, longer lasting relationships within the community. We’ve Paired Up 5 sets of cooks and diners in Reigate and Banstead so far, and have quickly seen how well these neighbourly friendships blossom through these one-to-one matches.

The biggest learning curve for the team has come from trying to engage different people in a bunch of different ways, from randomly leaving muffins on doorsteps to using online ads and we’ll be covering this and our learning in a separate blog post soon. Stay tuned.

 

It’s been pretty amazing to see how Casserole has grown and evolved so far, which is in large part thanks to all the wonderful people who have joined the Casserole bandwagon along the way. From our very first pair – Betty and Katie – who still share meals twice a week, to Maggie and Pam – a fairly new pair who have spread the word about Casserole like wildfire through their friend groups, and the local businesses who have pitched in and promoted us through their networks – we wouldn’t be where we are now without them. With everything that has happened in the last 8 months, we can’t wait to see what happens next!