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Helpful 2018 in review

What we've been doing

We’ve launched a huge variety of different digital offerings this year including a campaign hub for DfT’s THINK! Road Safety, environmental research for the NERC Arctic Office, a paperless signing system for MHCLG’s Local Digital Declaration, a comms strategy including user research for the General Optical Council and online pledging tool for Local Charities Day.

With new regulations coming into force for public sector bodies in 2018, accessibility has been a hugely important part of the year for the build team. We assisted the UK Statistics Authority in an independent accessibility review by Shaw Trust, including manual and automated tests. We learnt a lot in this process over purely automated testing and it was great to see the UKSA site achieve accreditation.

Our capability team have been in action in dozens of exercises with teams across the world. From multi-agency counter-terrorism simulations to product recalls we’ve taken our crisis simulator on the road to Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Dubai, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Istabul, Kyiv, Frankfurt, Milan, Edinburgh, Derby and beyond. We’ve reached new heights with our work with the aviation sector and plumbed new depths with a crisis revolving around flushability standards.

A huge thanks from all of us to our brave clients and partners who have worked with us this year. It’s been epic.


New starters

We welcomed two new starters to our team this year and have another set to start in February 2019. A warm welcome to Serena, PHP developer and Kara, Social Simulator consultant based in our New York office. Howard, Senior Digital Communication Advisor rejoined us in a new role (after a sabbatical in the West End and in government content design) to help our clients get more out of their sites. Welcome back Howard!

We’ve been blogging more about our experience and learnings, and we can’t wait to see what our new joiners bring to the mix.

Stories from the Helpful team


The highlight for me has to be Diversity. Working with different teams across different locations. No day is the same and each project brings its own challenges and rewards. Whether that’s running a simulation with a crisis management team in -7 Kyiv or building digital skills for government communicators in Westminster.

I learned that 50% of people in Hong Kong live above the 15th floor 😲I also learned far too much about international flushability standards 🚽 (don’t ask!)

In 2019 I want to make time to learn. Too often we get swept up with training others and forget about developing our own skills.


A hundred years on from the Armistice at the end of WWI, I’ll remember the sight of our #Armistice100 map filling up with commemorative and bellringing events. Tens of thousands got involved – which reassured me that digital engagement beyond the big social media platforms still exists and can still work, with a client as brave and ambitious as the DCMS digital team.

I think Woody Allen’s “80% of success is showing up” quote has some truth in it. 2018 was our first year in the US market, rather than just working with US clients from the UK. My colleagues Chris and Kara have done a lot more than just show up, and the result has been digital capability-building with some really iconic American brands.

Brexit looms over us all. We work with clients all over Europe so in 2019 we’ll be enhancing our offer to them via a new EU company and hosting infrastructure. Though I’m a French citizen, I’ve never lived there and I’m hoping to put some effort in to improving my professional French. If nothing else, it will make my mum happy.


I have lots of highlights from 2018 – visits to Dallas and Dubai, winning exciting projects and realising some long-held ambitions. But if I had to pick one highlight, it would be an afternoon’s social media training, delivered in a cramped meeting room in South East London. The attendees were a hard-pressed NHS team, using social media to understand and shape one of the most contentious areas of NHS policy. They are brave, and an inspiration.

2018 has also been the year I learned to manage my time more carefully, and get really ruthless with how I spend my working hours.

In 2019 my challenge is to really get client capability embedded as our purpose, across the ever-growing Helpful team. Whether that’s clients better managing and writing for their websites, or wanting to get more from social media.


A highlight for me in 2018 has been developing the Gigabit Voucher Scheme website and seeing its evolution. Starting as a site to fill a need for DCMS, it’s grown into the beginnings of a much bigger offering that could be deployed across government.

A key learning was that optimism != action. We try to stay light on meetings and paperwork, but it’s key that meetings have an owner who captures actions, assigns them, and follows up on progress. Otherwise all those nodding heads risk coming to nothing.

In 2019 I’m challenging myself to take the “opportunity” that Brexit presents to make all our hosting, backup infrastructure and systems management more nimble and provider agnostic so we can quickly deploy throughout the world.

Opening a new US office

We’ve been doing business in the USA and Canada for several years and in February we entered an incredibly exciting new phase, as we’ve opened our first North American office – in the heart of New York City.

Our New York office has had a great first year, building on the work we do globally to offer services to our clients from sectors including energy, finance, aviation, retail and healthcare, as well as federal and state government departments. It’s been amazing seeing big US comms and resilience teams get stuck into our crisis simulations and training workshops, as well as customer service and digital leadership training.


In the first full year of trading for our US business, there have been numerous highlights. I’d have to say the joint Chicago airport functional exercise – the first emergency drill in history to involve both O’Hare and Midway airports (as well as an array of significant airport stakeholders) – was a particular standout. It’s not everyday that you get to put the FBI through their paces after all.

That and getting married. In Vegas. With Elvis.

More a ‘reminding’, than an learning, but teamwork really does make the dream work. It may sound glib, but our US office has only gotten off to a successful start as a result of the whole HD team pulling together on both sides of the pond.

For our team in the UK especially, that has meant a year of hard graft and late nights as we’ve worked to get the stateside ball rolling – which it now is. And all American bread has sugar in it. But I’m not sure why.

Building on the solid foundations of a successful first year and taking the US business to the next level. Ideally to a point where we can stand on our own two feet and need less of aforementioned late night support from the Helpful HQ team. Generally trying to avoid ‘second season syndrome’ to use a footballing (or ‘soccer’) term.


My highlight for 2018 has simply been to rejoin Helpful after a 4-year ‘sabbatical’ – and to see how far the company has expanded and blossomed since I left!

I’ve learnt in 2018 that words are hard. Really hard. But they can make all the difference. Spending time with clients – and their users – to help get them right needs to be an essential part of a successful website project, not just a ‘nice to have’.

My challenge for 2019 will be to help the team create a most holistic offer that puts good content at the centre of how our clients can communicate more confidently and effectively online.


My highlight for 2018 was our Firebreak (which you can read more about in my blog Helpful’s first firebreak: what we learned). Another highlight was the increased number of user research / discovery projects at Helpful. I feel like there’s been a clear shift this year in clients actively requesting more research in to their existing sites to ensure they are still up to standard and making proactive changes thereafter. I find user research extremely interesting and am excited to have 3 more lined up in January alone.

I learned to think more about the ‘needs’ of not just users, but clients and colleagues. Sometimes an uncomfortable exchange can be based more on misunderstood needs or pressures and it’s been important to take a deep breath, and really think about underlying causes before responding.

In 2019 a challenge will be the expanding team. Although this is much needed and means we can take on more exciting projects, I struggle with change and I think it’ll be interesting to deal with a shift in balance and workload. A challenge for myself is to embrace the change and I’m very much looking forward to it!


The firebreak over the summer was a useful time for the build team. We hadn’t taken a proper break from project work to look at tooling and processes in …ever. As things continually evolve on the Interwebs, it’s important to periodically examine our methods, technologies and techniques.

In 2018 we learned that we were still in the Stone Age in many ways, but we’ve introduced some better processes to help us work more smoothly as the team grows.

In 2019 our challenge remains to continue learning and evolving to ensure we’re doing things as efficiently and effectively as possible.


2018 saw our first build team firebreak, where we paused non-essential project work for 2-3 weeks so the build team could focus on their own individual projects and do some much needed admin.

This was a great learning experience and showed us the important of takin time out to ‘fix the plumbing’. We’ll be taking our second firebreak in Summer 2019. You can read more about our firebreak in our blog.


In the lead up to the elections earlier this year I helped Mona Adam, a candidate running in the electorate surrounding the Grenfell Tower area, get started with Twitter. Mona wanted to explore online communications channels so she could easily connect with local residents, particularly people who may not speak English as their first language. It was a humbling experience working with Mona so she could help others.

This year I’ve been inside the engine room (or so it felt!) of one of the UK’s largest regulator putting them through their paces during a cyber attack rehearsal. I’ve also stress tested the emergency services and other supporting agencies in their response to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) attack drill. Both exercises had a lot of moving parts and took months to prepare, but commonly they both had me walking away at the end of it all feeling very safe and secure as a civilian. If I take anything away from 2018, it is the gratitude of working with some very talented people from various sectors and backgrounds.

I need to get back into the field as a live responder. It’s been a few years now since I’ve managed a real life incident and I need to refresh that live area of expertise. Perhaps volunteering at a charity – I think there’s a lot both parties could learn from each other.


A highlight of my year with Helpful has been the considerable user testing and WordPress training we have done with many of our clients. It’s always nice to have people around to the “new” office and put faces to names.

I have learnt this year to be patient and flexible while still trying to press forward. Things can change quickly, especially in smaller projects and it’s important to be able to adapt.

In 2019 I intend to improve my coding tackle a new language or two! (Plus get a hook on my time management).


The best highlight I could think of is getting hired by TSS! Getting hired and moving to New York is one of the bigger accomplishments in my life thus far.

In 2018 I learned the importance of crisis preparedness and what differentiates excellent crisis responses from the “just ok” ones.

In 2019 I am setting a goal to grow within the HD/TSS team and hope to expand further into the US market.

In 2018 the team clocked up an incredible 168,976 miles which is equivalent to 4.2 times around the world! We’ve offset our combined company carbon emissions with the excellent Carbon Footprint funding carbon reduction schemes around the world.

November 27th will also go down in Helpful history as the day we managed five crisis simulations in a day. The crisis simulator has also been used in Mandarin, Arabic, French, Italian and German.


A few highlights included writing a blog post for the Social Simulator website, followed by completing a writing course and further contributions to Digital Action Plan.

I’ve learnt that the population density of Alaska is less than two people per square mile and there is approximately 1 bear to every 21 people.

My challenge next year is to get involved in more exciting projects and develop new skills.


In 2018 I helped in a project based on Django, I really enjoyed using it and refreshing my Python knowledge. But the true highlight of this year was starting a new job at Helpful Digital.

I learned a lot of new things and languages, but mainly I learned from my mistakes. I realised that I love working with the people that will use what I set up because I’m still convinced that IT has to be at service of people, not the other way around.

A challenge for 2019 is don’t use lazy passwords anywhere again, and change the old ones. I’m looking forward to contribute to new projects, learn new technologies and automate, automate, automate!