As we start to meet with friends and family and ease cautiously out of lockdown, more and more of us are asking, “What now?”

Zoom was once a word once only used to describe racing cars; now it’s part of our daily lexicon. Video calls, chat apps and online social networks have provided a vital lifeline for those isolating, and are invaluable to help us work and collaborate with colleagues.

It’s clear that there will be many changes to the way in which we live and work. Day-to-day life as we knew it isn’t possible for the foreseeable future. The importance of technology to change the way we do things and make our lives easier is now a given, even more than it has ever been.

Digital Welcome

Digital Welcome logo

The economic impact of the virus and of the lockdown measures seems to be severe. We are heading into recession with huge job losses, and businesses going into administration. The British Independent Retailers Association expects only 1 in 5 small retailers to survive the pandemic.

Can digital be a lifeline? Often, business owners know that e-commerce could help their business, but the “way in” doesn’t seem apparent. It may not feel like their world. Until now, it may not have felt necessary.

Many of these businesses are lacking crucial digital skills and know-how. For them, getting started on a digital journey can be daunting. This is where Digital Welcome comes in.

Digital Mentors

A smiling Digital Mentor

We hope that the Digital Welcome pilot can fix this problem by offering a warm and supportive way into the digital world for independent small businesses.

We know that a personalised digital champion approach is the best way to help people with digital skills. So Digital Welcome will provide this with five weeks of intensive digital mentoring from digitally savvy volunteers, called ‘Digital Mentors’. The aim is to help SMEs improve their digital presence and increase their chances of survival.

The Digital Welcome pilot project is funded by Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), and the delivery partners are Limina, IET, Infoculture and Citizens Online. As a pilot, there will be a lot to test and learn from this approach.

Already we’re impressed with the response from SMEs and volunteer Digital Mentors who have got involved.

We hope we can make a difference, keeping communities alive with local independent businesses that are resilient to the economic downturn. The project is inducting Digital Mentors from 20 July and mentoring sessions for SMEs will begin the following week. We’ll keep you posted on how things progress by sharing more here.