Helping people stay connected – Richard’s story

Knaresborough Bridge over the River Nidd

Richard has a PhD in Analytical Science from UMIST and lives in Knaresborough with his wife, father-in-law and a little black cat called Spock. He started volunteering as a Digital Champion in February 2021 as part of our North Yorkshire project, helping people to get online during the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, Richard has helped over thirteen learners build confidence and digital skills.

Richard, a volunteer Digital Champion, is helping people get online.

“It’s about being connected to other people… Our role is to enable people to become confident in their ability to connect.”

Richard, a volunteer Digital Champion, is helping people get online

Becoming a Digital Champion

“I’ve been working with computers and helping friends and family with them since I first had a computer, about 1986! During the lockdown, I couldn’t be out volunteering in the community because of family members shielding. I thought if I can do something remotely with computers, why not get involved?”

Catherine Dearden, Citizens Online’s Digital Champion Coordinator in North Yorkshire, helped Richard get started:

“Catherine organised online training and web chats with other volunteers. The training is a fantastic opportunity to get more information on how to engage with digital novices.”

Once volunteers have completed their training, Catherine allocates clients for them to support.

Helping people over the phone

The need to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 has meant that of course digital support has largely moved from face-to-face to support over the phone. Richard, like our other DCs, has had to adapt to the pros and cons of helping people by phone and using remote access tools like TeamViewer:

“It’s pretty different to support I’ve done in the past, as it’s been mainly on the phone. Trying to get someone who’s not familiar with a tablet or mobile to describe to you what they see on the screen is not straightforward! I’ve been using remote access software, with their permission of course, so I can see their screen and talk them through things.

There have been benefits to remote working too – we can do things when it’s convenient for both of us. You can build a relationship with the learner on the phone and work with more people because you can help them more easily without the need to travel.”

Building confidence and skills

As a Digital Champion, Richard tailors support to each individual’s needs:

“Sometimes it’s a brief call asking for help to how to do something like email. Sometimes there are multiple calls.

One gentleman I’ve been working with wanted to go on walks, take photographs and email them to friends. He wanted to use his tablet but soon realised it was too big to use, and the camera on his phone did a better job. There are things you have to think about, like the phone screen being smaller, that people can’t type emails and see them as easily on a small screen. I went through different routes and we settled on using Google Photos so all he’s got to do is send the photos from his computer.

Other calls have been more of an introduction to the device, explaining terminology, discovering what the person wants to achieve, and following up in later sessions.”

Making a difference

Richard has seen the difference getting online has made to people during the pandemic:

“It’s about being connected to other people. Fear of the unknown leads to people being intimidated by technology, so our role is to help alleviate these concerns and enable people to become confident in their ability to connect. It makes a difference when someone realises that they can access the internet, speak to family, use apps and even go shopping online. Their achievements encourage them to move forward.”

A Digital Champion superhero cartoon. The DC is dressed as a typical superhero and carries a laptop with "How can I help?" on the screen and a smartphone with "Hi there!" on its screen.

The most important skill is patience, as people learn things in different ways.

The other essential for a volunteer digital champion is accepting it’s OK not to know everything.

He has found the experience of being a Digital Champion rewarding.

“The most important skill is patience, as people learn things in different ways. I’m very comfortable talking about computers; but the level of expertise required is less important than your willingness to help. The internet is a new world for the people we are helping, but the rewards are fantastic.

The other essential for a volunteer digital champion is accepting it’s OK not to know everything. There will be times when you can’t answer a question and it’s perfectly fine to call someone back when you’ve researched something.

Offering that support and confidence boost to the people you work with is far more beneficial than you would believe. It’s terrific fun and fabulous to make a difference!”

A learner’s point of view

One of the North Yorkshire residents Richard has helped shared their thanks in a poem:

I want to thank you, Richard
for getting in touch the other day,
I found it really helpful,
all you had to say;

You said it in a language,
I could fully understand,
I’m sure the answers to my questions,
will very soon come to hand;

And I will feel more confident,
new things now to try,
I know it won’t be easy,
this I can’t deny.

But with your help and patience,
all will become clear,
And I will come to realise,
I have nothing now to fear.

Read more about our work to help people in North Yorkshire get online.

Anyone needing help to get started using technology or building confidence to do more online can call our free digital support helpline on 0808 196 5883.