Carole Pound has been offering tailored support with digital skills for learners in the Borough of Ealing over the last six months. Here she shares her story and explains the benefits volunteering as a Digital Champion have brought, both to her and learners.

Why I got involved

Hi – I’m Carole and I started volunteering as a Digital Champion in early 2021. Previously I worked as a speech and language therapist with people with a communication disability, typically after a stroke or head injury. My particular interest was supporting people who had difficulty talking, reading or writing to be more connected with family and friends and less socially excluded.

I was interested in the digital inclusion project because I had previously helped older family members get online to use email and video calling to stay in touch when physical and cognitive disabilities narrowed their world. Also I wanted to help because the pandemic had really shone a light on how those who didn’t have easy access to digital technology were even more excluded – both from getting information, staying connected with family, friends and keeping important leisure interests. 

Image shows Carole smiling. She has provided tailored digital skills support as a volunteer Digital Champion

“So much information, support and access to services is via email and the internet!  If you’re not online or don’t have broadband in your home, it’s just a vicious circle of exclusion.”

Carole Pound, volunteer Digital Champion

Becoming a Digital Champion

I was a little apprehensive to be called a ‘Digital Champion’. Although I know my way around a computer and smart phone, I’d hardly call myself an expert! It was reassuring to take part in the induction and training sessions with the other volunteers and realise my skills – both with technology, and being able to talk to people and listen to what’s important to them.

I met my first learner after the induction training. It was great to have access to the range of Digital Champion Network resources both for suggestions on session plans and guidance on tasks that were new to me. For example, as an IPhone user I wasn’t familiar with accessibility settings on an Android phone, or how to set up email or download Apps on an Android phone.

Offering tailored support with digital skills

I’ve learnt a lot through working with my first learner, Richard*, particularly the challenge of getting online when you don’t own a computer or tablet. So much information, support and access to services is via email and the internet!  If you’re not online or don’t have broadband in your home, it’s just a vicious circle of exclusion.

Our first few sessions were over the phone due to the pandemic and communication was a little hard. It took longer to feel I was getting to know Richard and what motivated him. That all changed when we had our first face to face session. Hearing Richard’s story over a cuppa and the things he enjoyed doing gave me loads more ideas of activities we could cover.

It also confirmed the challenge for him of using touch screens, as he would quite often miss the target letter or icon and quickly disappear down some unexpected digital rabbit hole. So we looked at changing some of the accessibility settings and using a stylus for a little more accuracy.

Other tasks we’ve focused on recently are using Google Maps to find local car boot sales and practising sending photos by WhatsApp and email.  Everything takes quite a bit of time and practice but it’s great to see Richard’s confidence grow in using a touch screen. He’s now getting ready to join some one-to-one sessions to use a tablet, which he hopes will help him gain the skills to apply for a new job – something which almost exclusively happens online these days!

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.
Cartoon by Chris Andrew.

The benefits of tailored support from a Digital Champion

I’ve really enjoyed meeting other people – the volunteers and learners. It feels like I’m offering something useful to people who just need a bit more time and space to access so much stuff that we take for granted. Seeing Richard’s skills and confidence grow in recent sessions has given me a real buzz.

Richard has found the support helpful:

“It’s helped me to try different things that I didn’t know about. I was very nervous about using it (the Smartphone/ the internet) but it’s given me more confidence. For example, I wasn’t too sure about sending emails but I’m learning slowly because I need to apply for a job and everything is online now.”

Richard*, Borough of Ealing

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

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality