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News: Local IT project helps vulnerable citizens get online

Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action have been running the digital IT Connecting Scotland project which has allowed vulnerable citizens to get online.

During the Coronavirus outbreak, the Internet has kept a large amount of the population entertained, able to access important information and stay connected with friends and family. However, some people have been unable to access these benefits because they do not have the confidence, kit and connectivity at home.

Connecting Scotland is a Scottish Government initiative set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic and managed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. As part of this project Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action have received around 40 devices along with data allowance to distribute to vulnerable people with a lack of digital communication.

In addition to distributing the free devices, DVVA has been recruiting, training, and then allocating volunteers to teach individuals how to use devices effectively. The volunteers known as ‘Digital Champions’ provide remote support and assistance with activities such as switching on devices for the first time, navigating the Internet, creating an email account, becoming familiar with Microsoft Office and introducing social media and video calling such as Zoom.

The project has now been running for 6 months and made a significant difference. Learners have been able to call friends and family, and see familiar faces they have not been in contact with since before the first lockdown. Other learners have become able to attend online group meetings, appointments and browse online stores which they would normally visit in person.

Digital Champion Maureen said, “I have found this experience to be very rewarding. The two sisters I am helping are both in their 80s but are keen to get connected and pick things up well after a few times practicing. They have quickly become confident using email, FaceTime, YouTube, and online grocery shopping. This has allowed them to be connected with their extended family, taking part in family quizzes and to access their Church services and social activities which are all very important to them.

The learning process can be quite frustrating for the learners and myself as being unable to see their screen is sometimes difficult to assess what they are struggling with. It is also very time consuming, taking up to 2 hours a session at times to complete a task first time over but this becomes quicker with practice.

Despite the drawbacks building a relationship with my learners has been extremely rewarding. They are lovely ladies and grateful for the help offered to them. To witness their satisfaction at achieving a new skill is a joy. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone with patience and time to spend. “

Maureen’s learner, Irene, 86, said “We wondered if we would be able to do it because of our age, but we are getting on fine. We even did our own online grocery shop last night and it’s getting delivered on Saturday.  We were very novice at the beginning as we’ve never had a computer before but Maureen has done us a power of good. She has the patience of a saint”.

Evelyn, Irene’s sister, 89, added” We’ve tested her patience for certain. We were worried we were wasting her time at the start, then once we got connected it was marvellous.  We’ve had such fun with the family online too and have even been able to see family in America.  We feel so privileged to have been able to take part. We didn’t know how good it would be”.

Digital Champion Jennifer said, “It is really rewarding volunteering as a digital champion. I love helping learners stay connected to others during this hard time. I have assisted learners to connect with their family across the world on Facebook for example and helped them become more confident using emails to keep involved in local activities where meetings cannot be attended. By doing our sessions on the phone initially and then moving onto video sessions via Zoom using the share screen functionality this has also really helped me to further develop my communication skills.”

Jen’s learner Morag said, “I have enjoyed this learning experience with Jennifer. I have learned a few more activities I can now manage on the computer and am more confident. I feel Jennifer must have a lot of patience and I would probably be better if we had face to face communication.  It certainly makes me more confident in using my computer.”

Nicola Mitchell, Older Peoples Services Development Officer said “This was been a really wonderful project to be a part of. We identified at the start a number of older people who were struggling during lockdown because they couldn’t see their family and friends.  Some didn’t have access to the technology to enable them to keep in contact and others, whilst they had the devices didn’t use it as they didn’t know how to or were too scared that they would do something wrong.

Being able to provide not only the technology and connection along with a volunteer champion has been incredibly worthwhile.  Hearing that our learners are now able to take part in Zoom calls and see their loved ones has been particularly heart-warming.  We had lots of learners with family or grandchildren who didn’t live locally, so this project was a real lifeline to them.  Other successes include some learners not only taking part in community meetings or groups, but who are leading by example and taking their meetings and members online too allowing the work that they were doing for their communities to continue.  I am so proud of the learners for their patience and determination to learn, not an easy task when you are learning remotely”.

We plan to continue to offer one off support to learners, so if you are interested in volunteering in this role, get in touch on 01382 305757.