• Challenge At 2020 estimates, around 13.6 million UK adults are quietly caring for loved ones. How can they get to take a break, when many don't have the time or money?
  • SolutionCarefree built a system to match unpaid carers with empty hotel rooms, using a patchwork of different no-code software — including over a dozen typeforms!
  • Result A scalable, efficient platform that empowers the UK's full-time unpaid carers to access gifted breaks away.

The UK is facing a hidden crisis. An estimated 1 in 4 adults provided unpaid care to a loved one during the pandemic. Most people will look after someone at some point in their lives, whether an elderly parent, a child with a disability, or a partner battling a disease. Unfortunately, it's a similar story in many nations with an ageing population.

A social issue disguised as a personal one

People perform care for emotional reasons — empathy, duty, or, most commonly, love. Technically, it's not work. . . so the working conditions are unregulated. You've no entitlement to breaks, holiday, or sick leave. There's nothing to stop you from being on call 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. It's no surprise that many carers struggle to prioritise their own needs. 

In fact, 24% of UK carers spend 50 hours per week or more on these duties — far more than a full-time job. There's no time around that for a personal life, let alone paid employment. Consequently, 1.2 million UK carers live in poverty. 

Meanwhile, the hospitality sector has a much lighter problem: under capacity is a fact of business. Every holiday cottage and hotel room is priced on the prediction that it'll stay empty around half the time. 

A common sense solution

In 2016, two brothers, Charlie and James Ricketts, had the smashing idea to connect these two issues. They hatched an ambitious plan to link up surplus hotel rooms with carers who face a host of logistical, emotional and financial barriers to getting a holiday. It wouldn't make the care crisis go away, but it would be a way to release the pressure on a group of very selfless and overworked people. 

In the words of Joey Ceunen, CTO of Carefree:

“Pre-COVID there were 1 million empty hotel rooms in the whole of the UK per week. Empty hotel rooms are useless to everyone, hotels included! But you can use them to give carers a break without it costing the taxpayer any money”

Joey Ceunen, CTO, Carefree

Using tech to work smart, not hard

Typeform spoke to Carefree's CTO, Joey. He has an entrepreneurial background, and wants to make Carefree as growth-minded and tech-forward as a startup. 

However: there was a problem with that. Tech industry culture is all about staying "agile." Trying new things, messing them up, then trying something else. It's built around taking quick decisions and fixing whatever goes wrong. 

Charity industry culture, on the other hand, is about checks and balances. Justifying your funding. Several groups must be carefully considered before taking decisions: donors, trustees, beneficiaries and whoever else you're working with to make good things happen. Just take a look at Carefree's main stakeholders. 

In Joey’s words, 

“We have so many different stakeholders requiring so many different things from us. We realised very early on that it’s not realistic to build that all from scratch. ”

Joey Ceunen, CTO, Carefree

A custom-coded website would be difficult to change when a stakeholder raised a concern — not to mention, way too expensive. Therefore, the product was almost entirely built on no-code software, like Typeform. 

Post-break surveys are just a tiny fragment of what Carefree do with no-code software. If you'd like to see a different section of their tech architecture, here's a video about how they onboard newly referred Carers.

Measuring the social impact of taking a break   

All of Carefree's stakeholder groups needed to be confident that the charity was providing value to carers. 

  • Trustees have a responsibility to make sure that Carefree is achieving its aims.

  • Donors need evidence that Carefree benefits society, or they won't donate. If they are public bodies, this will be a requirement; if they are individuals, then numbers are persuasive. 

  • Carers will get a better experience with a Carefree break if it's been tweaked in response to feedback.  

  • Community partners need to know that referring carers to Carefree is safe. 

  • Hospitality partners need evidence there's a social benefit to lending out hotel rooms. 

Two days before they go on a break, carers receive an email with a typeform to fill in. It's optional, and super short — just two multiple choice questions.

According to Joey, it was important that this typeform was minimal effort. 

“We don’t want the pre-break survey to be this heavy, annoying chore. Carers have to deal with so much paperwork already!”

Joey Ceunen

Two days after their break, carers get another typeform in their inbox.  This is a little longer - a whopping nine questions, including a couple of open-ended ones. 

It was really important to Joey that this form carry Carefree's signature look, with illustrations and clear, simple fonts. From their experience, many carers aren't thrilled about being asked to fill in an online form. 

“Lots of carers don’t like to be at their computer. If it was up to them, we would just call them to arrange a break. That’s obviously not realistic, but we need to make sure that the form we send them still has a human touch. A sense of being caring! ”

Joey Ceunen

Carefree's branding wasn't just “nice to have” on post-break forms, it was the main strategy for encouraging carers to fill them out. 

“The typeform we send out is really cute because we want carers to remember: this is your time. I think friendly design encourages people to complete these forms and to feel more secure doing it”

Joey Ceunen

Proof that rest is powerful soul medicine   

Luckily, almost everyone in Carefree's pilot program filled out their feedback forms. Now, the charity has some hard numbers to prove their social impact.

  • 98% of carers reported improved wellbeing

  • 86% of carers would not have had a break without Carefree

They also received some lovely individual responses to the more open-ended questions:

“It had been 3 years since I got away without my daughter and I really needed it. I came home more refreshed, ready to help my little girl again!”

“It has helped me realise that I need to take some time for myself - even a few minutes here and there, to look after my physical and mental health. ”

“It was absolutely incredible! It was such a luxury to have a break and be waited on at breakfast! We read our books, something we haven’t been able to do for months. ”

These numbers and testimonials will form the basis of a convincing impact report: it's clear that this initiative is improving lives for little cost. What's more, unequivocal data like this leads to funding grants, which can help the Carefree team take their work even further.   

A future where carers get the breaks they deserve  

Carefree has taken a couple of years to progress from beta to a live platform, because Joey and the team wanted to make it scalable. After all, the problem of overworked carers isn't going away anytime soon, and neither are spare hotel rooms. With a huge demand, and a huge supply, it was sensible to plan for Carefree to grow. 

“We could totally do this by picking up the phone and updating an excel spreadsheet, but that’s not scalable! We don’t have the money to do that, because you’d be on the phone with a carer for over an hour to get something booked”

Joey Ceunen

Joey even believes that there's potential for Carefree to be exported. Once the team has honed their processes, this model could be replicated in countries all over the world!  

Why we should all care about Carefree 

Carefree's approach has exciting ramifications for the future of the third sector, but that’s not to lose sight of the charity's own mission. It's vital that long-term solutions are found to protect the mental and physical health of carers, because almost all of us will be carers at some point in our lives.

In the team's own words, “This is your story. Or has been. Or will be.”

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