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Weeknotes: Catalyst Notifications – week 1

Feb 2021

Bit Zesty has been appointed as one of the five digital partners by Catalyst and the National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response Funding programme. Together we will be creating a shared service layer for notifications for civil society organisations.

Charities often need to send many types of notifications to their service users, for example, to let them know about appointments, send reminders, send confirmation messages and tell them what they need to do next. 

Whist government organisations can use the excellent service run by GDS GOV.UK Notify, our service will be focusing on civil society organisations. We’ve used the GOV.UK Notify service in a number of projects and worked closely with the Notify API having written the initial Ruby client. For the Catalyst notification service, we will look to reuse and build upon the great product and ecosystem of suppliers that GDS has created. 

One of the aims of the project is to develop tools, services, processes or standards that can be reused by other organisations. To help with that we will be working in the open, publishing our code on GitHub, and contributing back to other open-source projects where possible.

We will also be publishing weeknotes by the project team to share our progress, any challenges or learnings which we hope will aid collaborative working with Catalyst and the other partners. 


  • We kicked off the notifications project and it was great to meet up with the Catalyst team to verify some of our initial assumptions. 
  • We reached out to the GOV.UK Notify team to start initial conversations about how we could reuse their codebase as well as contribute back changes where possible (Thanks Pete!).
  • Looking forward to getting notifications up and running in our staging environment next week.


  • The first official week on the project is done and dusted and it’s been a good start! We had the opportunity to meet with the Catalyst team as well as Stephen from Dev Society to clear up a few questions we had and it was really great to set the tone for the coming weeks.
  • Amongst other technical things, the team have set up locally, integrated with an SMS sending provider and made some great progress on documentation – although the latter will likely be an ongoing task throughout the project.
  • Looking at the week ahead – we’re really excited to get the staging environment setup, agree on a way forward with the app restyling and hopefully plan in our first show and tell for the project. 
  • Excited to keep the momentum going.  


  • Setup the GOV.UK Notify applications for local development.
  • Documented the setup process for the benefit of other developers who come onboard.
  • Confirmed that SMS messages can be sent using the Firetext provider.
  • Discovered that Firetext placed a (temporary) block on our account due to default behaviour sending messages as “GOVUK”, which triggers fraud protection measures.
  • Implemented a “block-list” feature to prevent users from sending SMS messages as a “protected” sender, for example, “GOVUK” or “NHS”.
  • Created a tool to apply safer default values for developer laptops, for example, removing the default “GOVUK” sender.
  • Documented how existing GOV.UK Notify libraries can be used to send messages via the Catalyst Notify service.
  • Next week I will be focusing on completing our continuous integration pipeline.


  • Setup the GOV.UK Notify applications for local development.
  • Documented the setup process for the benefit of other developers who come on board who use Linux/Docker.
  • Made good progress with project dockerization which will help other developers use the project in their own environment.
  • Enabled overriding the default database settings with environment variables.


  • Setup the GOV.UK Notify applications for local development.
  • Experimented applying the existing Catalyst design toolkit onto the Notify application.
  • Discovered it does not cover the majority of the patterns used within Notify and wrote my findings and recommendations to share with the rest of the Catalyst team.

Bit Zesty creates innovative digital products and services for corporations, nonprofit and startup organisations. Our experience working with charities and government organisations leave us well placed to understand their requirements and deliver them in a way that delights service users.

Get in touch with Matthew Ford ([email protected]) for more information on the project.

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