A businessman from Carlisle has been invited to advise the Government after rolling-out a national system to coordinate volunteer networks formed during the coronavirus crisis.

Brad Kieser is director of SMS-Speedway, a company that invented the world’s first commercial text messaging service.

As the pandemic took hold in the UK, he transformed his company to focus on supporting volunteer networks – a decision he says was due to his experience on Cumbria Forum, a business growth programme run by Lancaster University Management School.

Brad took part in the forum, a six-month programme focused on business growth, last year.

He said he realised his company had the knowledge, technology and experience to work with volunteers to share information and help establish the right structures, safety procedures and communication lines with councils to get taskforces up and running effectively.

“Unfortunately, there were no blueprints for organising a volunteer force - no ‘how-to’ guides.” said Brad.

“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 free specialist service to help them with communication and organisation. Due to its success it was rolled out to volunteer networks nationally - and Brad was invited to become an adviser to the Government, feeding in important information about the real-world situation as well as anticipated future problems and challenges.

“The time spent on the forum to truly understand our business helped us ensure a rapid transformation of our services," he said.

“Our focus now is on assisting small, local businesses to restart as lockdown eases.

“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.”