Become a volunteer Digital Champion

Digital Champion volunteers support people to get online, use the internet, and enjoy all the benefits of digital skills. Digital Champions might support family, friends, colleagues or people in the community. Being a Digital Champion means helping people, so is very rewarding. Scroll down to learn about some of their experiences.

What skills do you need?

Anyone who is online already can be a Digital Champion – you only need basic digital skills as there’s training to teach you ways to support learners. The most important skill a volunteer Digital Champion can have is to be enthusiastic about the benefits of being online and having digital skills and be willing to share this with others.

Other skills include being:

  • a good communicator and active listener
  • patient and able to build up trust with learners
  • good at working and connecting with local communities
  • motivated to be able to help others to learn
  • confident enough in your own ability
  • happy to learn and keep up-to-date yourself

How much time will it take?

Being a Digital Champion does not involve set hours. Each Digital Champion can choose when they would like to start and how much time they would like to commit. Volunteer Digital Champions provide support both 1-1 and during group sessions, in a relaxed, informal environment.

What’s expected of Digital Champions

You might be helping people with:

  • using a computer or other device
  • setting up an email address and using email
  • using the internet to search for information
  • messaging and video calls
  • using GP and NHS services online
  • using office programmes
  • watching and listening online
  • managing and sending photographs online
  • shopping safely online
  • PayPal and online banking
  • social media
  • searching and applying for jobs
  • online safety
  • apply for universal credit

If you could spare some time to help people, please sign up for an induction session.

Paddy McDonald  – Digital Champion

Paddy started volunteering with Starting Point after noticing a sign in the coffee shop window and has been a volunteer with them for the last 7 years. Whilst he already had all the requisite IT skills, they’ve supported him to further develop his teaching skills and have increased his confidence as a result. Through volunteering he’s found a new passion for teaching and a community of co-workers and students that have transformed his ‘retirement’.

“I just love working with the clients in the coffee shop and Starting Point’s different groups around Stockport. Nothing beats going there and teaching somebody something and then watching them confidently use that. You get a kick out of teaching them and they get a kick out of learning. It works both ways. You feel so good at the end of it when someone’s learnt something. And they come back. Next week’s lesson might be to learn how to use a credit card and they don’t even want a credit card, but they’ll come for the lesson because they don’t want to miss anything!”

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“I get loads of people saying ‘I’m too thick to do that’– their words not mine – or ‘I’m too old – I can’t do it’, ‘I’m 85, I can’t learn at my age’. 5 weeks later they’re online, they’re Skyping people, they’re doing all sorts of things. I do this for moments like that, without a doubt.”

Paddy puts into practice Starting Point’s principle of giving others the confidence and tools to do things for themselves. He describes how the volunteer digital champions help each other. “One of the other volunteers I work with started around the same time to me, but with a totally different background. When she first came, she couldn’t read and write yet now she’s an ideal teacher for the total beginners because she really understands and has a hands-on approach.

I teach her IT things behind the scenes to make sure she’s ahead of the game and we use each other as guinea pigs to practice stuff. Everybody there is a volunteer – they’ve all got their own strengths and weaknesses. I’m dyslexic so in the past when I needed to use a whiteboard, I would always say ‘Right, can you be my scribe please’. As the years have passed my confidence has increased and now I just tell people straight away I’m dyslexic and they get used to it.”

During the Covid-19 lockdown, all regular face to face contact was stopped, but Paddy, along with the other Digital Champions received online training in how to teach using video calling software. The initial online classes replicated those groups that existed prior to the lockdown, offering people an online class at a similar time and day to their previous classes. After listening to their learners, Starting Point changed to themed sessions around topics open to learners and digital champions from across all the Stockport groups

As well as helping on the group video chats, Paddy has been buddied up with 4 individual learners who he connects to regularly. All are clients he knew from the old face to face classes, which has made it easier for him to support them. “When someone new joins a class they’ll click with one or the other champions. It makes it easier if the person you’re talking to likes you, so we let them pick us to support them.”

This highlights one of the difficulties of the new way of working – it can be difficult to develop a rapport and build trust with new learners who you have never met face to face. It’s a new thing for a lot of people and its worrying for them. Meeting new people and learning new skills at the same time is a double challenge.”

The learning curve can also be steeper when it’s conducted online. “People are scared of keyboards and mice and things like that. So in class we used to get them to draw something fun.  Once they’re all confident and chatting to each other, then the whole thing becomes much easier. You can teach them things and they don’t even realise they’re learning.”

He’s confident that online learning and communication works, and that everyone can be helped to get better at it. He finds himself wanting to advise wherever he sees that improvements can be made. “The other day I was on a Zoom call for the church with about 60 people. I wasn’t teaching, but in my head I could see where people needed to adjust their camera or turn their volume up, or where they needed headphones. Most people need a little lesson in how to use the technology – just a little lesson can help make life easier. It’s just a matter of time, I think. It’s a new thing for everybody. You see PM’s Question Time and half the people, really really experienced people, who work in IT and all sorts, can’t turn the audio off! So, you see – everybody’s got something to learn!”

Paddy also worked with Stockport Advocacy during lockdown, training staff on using Zoom for their meetings, including sharing Powerpoints and other features. The next step will hopefully be to train their disabled clients to use Zoom. As the parent of a disabled child himself, he understands both the role of the advocates and the additional difficulties disabled learners face. “I’ve a son who’s got a disability. He does some video calls, Facebook type things, just fine, but when I teach him how to do a Zoom conference call, there are too many options on the page, and he tends to mess up the call by fiddling about with it. Other people would probably be in the same boat. But everybody can learn can’t they. It’s just a matter of getting the right help.”

Gill Owen – Digital Champion

Gill became a Digital Champion in 2013 after retiring from teaching IT at Macclesfield College. For the last couple of years prior to retirement she had volunteered at Citizens Advice, but she felt she wanted to give more back to her local community once she had more time to do so. “I’ve been working all my life, never really able to do stuff in my local community, and when I retired I felt I wanted to do local community stuff.”

She read that Starting Point in nearby Woodley were looking for volunteers to help people with digital skills and saw this as the ideal way to use her teaching experience. “I thought I can do this in quite an organised way having had the teaching experience, and it will be a nice change to be able to help people who are really trying to get more IT literate without them having to do an exam.” 

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Aware that a lot of older people fell into the learner category, she also thought her age would be an advantage. “I’m an older person myself and I thought they might feel that if I can do it, somebody of a similar age, they can too.” Gill identifies with the problems many older people face. “As we get a bit older and our fingers are arthritic, you can’t do things quite as dextrously as a 25-year-old.  For instance, screenshots are difficult on iPads and iPhones, because you have to hit two buttons at once. I found something called assistive touch which brings a shadow button up to the top of your screen so you can do a screen shot without having to hold 2 buttons at exactly the same time.

“I started talking about it in one of our classes and we ended up running a couple of classes on it, with crib sheets and demonstrations on Zoom. I felt really pleased. I’ve always liked helping people and I’ve always had quite an analytical mind. That’s the sort of thing I like doing because I like solving problems. We all learn in different ways and we’re all comfortable doing different things. With IT, there’s quite often several ways to do things and a way around obstacles. I like trying to help people to find out what works for them as a person.”

Starting Point run training courses for digital champions, which Gill attended. She says: “I didn’t really need training from the IT point of view because I’m Microsoft qualified, but I learned what was going to be delivered in class, and the ‘Learn My Way’ courses. Although I had my teaching degree, it was also good to refresh my knowledge of the different ways that people learn.”

Gill helped at two face to face classes per week until COVID hit. Throughout COVID she helped on Zoom sessions. “Zoom has been quite tricky. Because COVID hit us so rapidly, we couldn’t show them how to do it face to face, so we had to send out crib sheets. Not everybody’s devices are up to it and some people aren’t that comfortable with it, or couldn’t manage it, but we’ve kept in touch with everybody from the face to face classes using ‘old style’ phone calls. We’ve helped with the social side of things, checking they’re ok, if they’ve been struggling with shopping or what the regulations are, and we’ve been researching things for them and giving them a call back. We’ve also kept them up to speed with what Starting Point’s been doing and when are we going to start back.

Gill has also helped with one-to-one support remotely during COVID. “You don’t have to have the same device as them, but it helps. With my background I’m pretty good at researching different devices. If they’ve received a device via the lending library and they’re struggling with it, at the first phone call I find out what the device is and if I need to I’ll do some research on that device, then call them back. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 phone calls.

“My background started off on PC’s so I find them pretty straightforward, but we get a lot of different types of tablets and things can all be in different places. And if it’s something related to email then you need to find out what email they’re on. Outlook and Gmail look very different, and sometimes if they want to do something specific there are terms to look for, to find out exactly where it is in that particular email application.

“I’m buddying up with about a dozen people, but it hasn’t been such a big commitment. You don’t phone everybody every week.  If they’re completely new you might make 2 or 3 phone calls in that week, but then it evens out and you tend to ring them every couple of weeks to check how they are. Some people don’t want to be disturbed so they have your contact number and email and will ring you if they’re struggling. I just send them a quick email now and then to say hello and remind them I’m here if they need anything. You might make 4 or 5 phone calls a week.

Starting Point have now restarted some face to face classes and Gill is looking forwards to supporting people in person once again, and especially those who weren’t able to use Zoom. “I think that COVID has given us all a bit of a jolt, not only from a health point of view, but from the point of view that we need make sure that technology is more inclusive to all age groups. I hope that one of the things we might do when we get back to face to face is to keep 1 Zoom session a week going and give help to get onto it in the face to face classes. That way if there comes a time when we need it again, the knowledge and the understanding will be there, so we can all go straight back onto Zoom.

“The world has gone more and more online, and particularly because of COVID, we’ve all been doing more online. I would say to older people that there is something for everybody. Even if it’s just that you want to learn the terms to understand a bit more about what your grandkids are saying! It’s also really useful to be able to search online for things you might want to buy, even if you don’t actually buy anything online or do banking online.”

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