Councils meet new COVID-19 safety regulations at household waste and recycling centres with GOSS
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough and East Renfrewshire Councils reopen household recycling centres safely and seamlessly with a digital booking application.
When the UK entered lockdown to stem the spread of Coronavirus on the 23rd of March 2020, all council-run household waste and recycling centres (HRCs) were forced to temporarily close. As the restrictions lifted, it was up to individual councils to decide how they would go about reopening HRCs, while managing increased demand for these services and a greater need to keep citizens safe. By using intuitive tools like the GOSS Bookings solution, two councils quickly repurposed their existing bookings management solutions to deploy new digital services and safely reopen HRCs.
The challenge: How to safely reopen household recycling centres after lockdown
Two councils were left in this exact position when they began to reopen their HRCs. Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and East Renfrewshire Council might serve different populations in two different countries within the UK, but they share a common challenge in trying to maintain safe, helpful services for citizens.
Like many parts of the country, residents in the two councils had no way to dispose of large, bulky rubbish while HRCs were closed. In Antrim and Newtownabbey this led directly to a rise in fly-tipping rates. As councils began reopening HRCs to tackle their waste and recycling problems, many struggled to meet latent demand and experienced long queues at centres - leading to dissatisfied residents. Many councils needed new processes and systems in place to ensure they could meet this demand without compromising the safety of citizens and staff.
While both Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and East Renfrewshire Council experienced these challenges, each faced their own unique obstacles too.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council chose to initially reopen two of its six HRCs. The O'Neill Road HRC accounts for the majority of traffic in the borough, but it also sits close to the council's border with Belfast. The council team became concerned Belfast residents would cross the county border to use the HRC, increasing demand and costs and putting unnecessary strain on Antrim and Newtownabbey services. For its Crumlin HRC, the council was concerned its small size could lead to traffic backing up onto a nearby A-road if its manual booking process wasn't carefully managed and streamlined.
For East Renfrewshire, the challenge was in how to relieve immense pressure on waste services already affected by staff shortages. During the initial lockdown, the council was forced to suspend curbside recycling collections, increasing demand as the council began reopening HRCs. At the same time, its personnel were stretched thin, with many off work either due to illness or shielding.
Both councils experienced different challenges, but they shared the need for a common solution: a sleek digital booking system for HRCs. Preferably, one that could also support their unique requirements.
The solution: Rapidly developed booking systems with bespoke features
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and East Renfrewshire Council both needed to quickly deploy a digital booking system to support their HRCs. However, developing a system that would solve their unique challenges quickly would require extensive development resources that neither council could spare.
Initially, both councils started managing HRC bookings on their own, with East Renfrewshire Council using an alternative booking application, while Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council relied on a manual system to book citizens into its HRCs.
Both councils found their solutions couldn't provide the scale or speed needed to meet demand from their citizens. They turned to GOSS to deploy a booking system built around local government best practices and standards that could handle the load, and start delivering an immediate impact. As both councils were already using GOSS solutions, they could quickly build a bookings application and use data stored in their existing GOSS solutions.
"While we have developers in house, their time was already committed to other projects. And this was a case where we needed a proof of concept spun up quickly," explains Graeme McWilliams, ICT Solutions Manager at East Renfrewshire Council. "Knowing GOSS could quickly take a solution off the shelf but then tailor it to our needs made it an easy choice for us. We discussed our requirements with them one Friday, and by the start of the next week they had a working demo for us."
For Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, their need for rapid development was accompanied by concerns around project risk. "This was a high-profile project. With so much pressure on HRCs, we couldn't risk this system failing and having to close sites again," says Sean Kearney, Transformation Projects Officer at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. "We'd used GOSS for waste services booking applications in the past, and knew they'd be able to deliver."
The two councils already used GOSS SelfServe to host digital self service portals for citizens, and added GOSS Bookings to host their new HRC booking applications. With a full booking solution customised to their particular needs, the councils have been able to safely meet demand for HRCs - and deliver additional time and cost-saving benefits.
After the initial rollout of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council's booking application, GOSS updated the solution to include features for validating residents as they attend the O'Neill Road HRC. The GOSS Bookings solution asks users for their postcode and ensures they match with the council's database. Then, team members at the HRC can check visitors in on a tablet, cross-referencing license plates against a vehicle registration database to ensure they're Antrim and Newtownabbey residents.
The results: Fast deployment and significant time and cost savings
The GOSS Bookings solutions have helped both councils quickly manage new demand for HRCs while ensuring staff and citizens are kept safe. And the benefits have extended beyond HRC bookings to other parts of council operations too.
For Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the new system has already generated significant positive feedback from the thousands of citizens using the booking application.
And with a smoother, more automated digital system, it's freed up resources across the rest of the council's waste services. "We went from 8 to 10 full time staff on HRC bookings, to just one person working part time to oversee our GOSS Bookings solution," says Kearney. "The platform has helped resolve traffic concerns around our Crumlin site, and we can reallocate resources to other services that have been affected by COVID. For instance, as fly tipping increased when our HRCs were closed, we didn't have the resources to investigate every report. Now, we do."
East Renfrewshire Council benefited from the speed and scale of change, and their increased ability to react quickly to changing circumstances. "The HRC closures meant we were under huge pressure from both the Government and citizens to open quickly," explains McWilliams. "GOSS really helped us have an answer ready - fast. In a single weekend, we had our initial booking system ready. And unlike our other efforts to build a booking app, this one was ready to take on the huge levels of traffic we've seen since launch."
Since going live with its booking application, East Renfrewshire Council has seen 12,545 bookings, with an average of 3,000 bookings each week across its two HRCs. Despite heavy initial demand - with citizens in one case booking available slots for an entire week within 20 minutes - the platform has held up and delivered a compelling user experience. The council has since expanded the service to also accommodate bookings for vans and trailers.
While the two councils are unsure what the future holds for their HRCs and booking tools, one thing is certain for both teams: a desire to continue working with GOSS on future digital experience projects.
"My team at the council has always felt well supported by GOSS. They always deliver the right systems for us, those systems always do exactly what they say they're going to do, and then GOSS always offers extensive post-launch support."
Sean Kearney, Transformation Projects Officer, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
"We simply couldn't have offered these services and this high-quality user experience without GOSS. They were great at listening to our feedback and delivering new functionality based on our requests, which really helped accelerate our processes."
Graeme McWilliams, Community Information Development Manager, East Renfrewshire Council