In spring 2021, Citizens Online supported London Borough of Ealing to set up a Digital Champion network offering help for local residents with digital skills.

Sanjay lives in the Borough of Ealing with his family. He has worked in IT roles at Harrods and RBS and currently works as a Business Analyst. Sanjay has volunteered for local charities before and decided to become a Digital Champion in Ealing during the Covid-19 pandemic:

“In the lockdown period, I saw lots of friends and family struggle with Zoom and online shopping. I found myself helping friends and family, then saw this opportunity and thought I’d like to help more people if and when I can. Helpfulness is part of my nature, and I like fixing problems.”

The need for help with digital skills

Sanjay recognises that people need help with digital skills, otherwise modern life can be a challenge:

“Digital exclusion is now more common, and the pace of technological change is making it difficult for learners to keep up. Simple things such as going to the recycling centre or letting your visitors park on your road are now not possible without access to the internet and awareness of how to use websites.”

Image shows Sanjay, who helps Borough of Ealing residents with digital skills

“You do not need to be a computer expert. Often a journey with a user is just that, a journey where you are helping them find out and learn new ways of doing things.”

Sanjay, volunteer Digital Champion, Ealing

Solving problems together

Sanjay has helped five learners so far who have been referred through the Citizens Online digital skills helpline. He is careful to explain security measures and the importance of strong passwords to ensure learners are safe and secure online. Recently, an Ealing resident called as she was having difficulty accessing local services on the Internet.  Sanjay explained he would work alongside the caller over the phone and they would work through the issues together.

Over a couple of phone-calls lasting about an hour each Sanjay supported the caller to address each issue.  The caller remarked on his patience and supportive nature throughout saying she was delighted with the response.

Tailored help with digital skills

After securing permission, Sanjay also contacted the caller by email to provide follow up support. He sent screenshots of the process the caller had found difficult, with clear arrows and highlights to show how to navigate the site step by step. He followed up the work with a courtesy call to check the learner was confident in using the new skills she had acquired.

“I’m delighted and thank you for your patience…I think it’s just brilliant and I really appreciate it.”

Learner, Borough of Ealing

An effective approach

Sanjay is supported by Chris Andrew, Digital Champion Coordinator for Ealing, who says:

“The fact that Sanjay is local, and is able to illustrate his advice with real world examples and knowledge means that the learners really benefit from his support.”

Sanjay has also learnt from the experience of supporting others:

“I am a lot more aware of my tone of voice, speed of speaking, and language used. Being in the IT field, I often take for granted what simple terms like Windows mean. We all start at different stages in the journey, so I am a lot more conscious of taking my time to understand a learners needs.”

Sanjay’s story helps show how effective referral, and remote support through the Citizens Online helpline links up those in need with those who can help, resulting in positive outcomes for all.

Digital inclusion in Ealing

Citizens Online has been working with the London Borough of Ealing council since 2020, to help embed digital inclusion in their area. Local people have volunteered to be Digital Champions on the free digital skills helpline, making 132 support calls with 24 different learners.

As well as the difference this work has made to people in need, the work of Chris, the Digital Champion Coordinator, means that there are another 10 volunteers in the community who have now had the training, experience and skills in supporting people to do more online.

Illustrations by Chris Andrew