In this blog, first published by Starting Point Community Learning Partnership on 6th April 2020, Ryan McMurdo describes how StartingPoint have adapted their digital skills training provision to working remotely and offers some tips for activities to boost your mental health during this time of social distancing and self-isolation.

We are currently living in uncertain times. Not since health crises of history books have, we seen such a large and concerted effort towards public hygiene and the fight against contamination. Now more than ever the digital divide is not only affecting social outcomes such as employment and housing, but it is affecting, and severely, people’s health. Now more than ever access to devices, broadband, support, skills and knowledge are a must for those most vulnerable in our communities. 1 in 5 adults in your community don’t have the basic digital skills essential. This increases when you look at those that fall in the most at-risk categories as established by the government and health professionals.

In an effort to combat this digital isolation, we are changing what we do, what we offer and how we support our communities. I think it was Tony Wilson who once said, ‘This is Manchester, we do things differently here’. Well, we are part of Greater Manchester and we are ready to do things different! We have trained our digital champions to help complement this offer on video calling software such as Zoom. We have developed a buddy scheme that connects our digital champions with learners from across their community and offers them a lifeline, and I mean that word in its truest essence, as we all stay safe, together. And just this week we are launching a new Helpline to take requests from Stockport residents for telephone support from a Digital Champion.

We are working alongside national partners in initiatives such as DeviceDotNow and #OperationWiFi to ensure that those who are the most vulnerable in our communities are matched up with equipment and mobile broadband that will allow them to access the internet and to lobby telecoms and internet service providers to help expand the current wi-fi network to make it more accessible and cheaper for those most in need.

Most of our learners and digital champions attend a session in one of many community venues throughout Stockport. This obviously, isn’t the case currently. We are however pleased to announce that we are now offering a full timetable of sessions that see our learners and digital champions reunited in 1-hour sessions at similar times on the same day as their face-to-face sessions were. We know how much we all value this social and learning opportunity and are keen to keep up the good work and relationships we have developed over the last 10 years.

If you’d like to know more, you can sign up for the DigiKnow newsletter that also contains funding and training opportunities as well as weekly handouts around digital skills.

We also know that during this time of social distancing and self-isolation, our mental health suffers as we look after our physical health. In that vein, we have created a list of our top 10 things to do whilst isolated. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and if you think we’ve missed something, let us know but we know that to help us keep safe and stop the spread, keeping ourselves busy will only help the time pass quicker.  Read more below and let us know how you do. Keep safe. We’ll meet again, soon.

DigiKnow now would be a good time to…

  1. Sort out all those old photos/emails.

Most people have got an inbox fit to burst and their gallery and camera roll are full of out of focus, blurry photos of the beach. Now is the perfect time to rid yourself of the clutter and delete those you don’t need and organise the ones you do into folders. For those wanting help with sorting out their e-mail accounts, we have a handout aimed at helping people create and manage their inboxes better. Click here to read handouts that will help with this and much more!

  1. Read that book!

Had your eye on the latest hardback in Waterstones? Not been able to get out to your local library? Your local library likely does much more than just books! Access their website and you’ll be amazed by all of the resources they offer at the click of a mouse. You can download the Kindle app and access various e-books (some for free) or try out Audible. Audible gives you access to thousands of audio books for you to listen too. David Walliams has even agreed to release 30 children’s books and there are other services offering free books and audiobooks too. Below is a list of links to where you can access them.

  • Stockport Libraries allow you to access eBooks, audiobooks, online graphic novels and comic books, daily newspapers, resources for children amidst other online resources. To find out more, click here.
  • Free audiobooks on Apple
  • Audible have made 100’s of audiobooks available for free including classics by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, children’s stories and educational books too!
  • Kindle, a sister company of Audible have also made it possible for you to access eBook for free during the current crisis.
  • David Walliams is reading one of his children’s stories out every day at 11am and you can even catch up on any you’ve missed. Click here to take part in Elevenses.
  1. Take up a new hobby.

Keeping your mind active during self-isolation is important. Have you tried googling or downloading a sudoku app? What about a crossword or jigsaw app? These fun and free games will help keep you entertained and also keep your mind sharp. Here is a list of 7 brain games as provided by

  • Sudoku – Sudoku is a highly addictive number puzzle game. There are plenty of sudoku websites accessible through your search engine.
  • Lumosity – Lumosity is one of the most developed brain training and mental fitness apps out there.
  • Happy Neuron – Happy Neuron is a website with games and activities divided into 5 categories.
  • My Brain Trainer – My Brain Trainer claims to be an online ‘brain gym’. It offers cheaper subscriptions than other online services, should you choose to subscribe.
  • Crosswords – A classic brain teaser. There are hundreds of websites offering these puzzles, similarly to Sudoku.
  • Braingle – Braingle claims to have the world’s largest collection of online puzzles, totalling over 10,000!
  • Queendom – Queendom is an addictive and completely free website with thousands of ‘tests’ including mind-stretchers and quizzes.
  1. Catch up on that TV series you missed.

Remember that TV series everybody was talking about, but you missed the first episode and never caught up. Now is your chance! Using catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub alongside paid-for TV subscription packages like Netflix, you’ll be up to speed in no time.

  1. Learn a new skill.

Ever wanted to know how to make a curry paste from scratch or how to ask for more than directions in Spanish? Accessing apps and websites like BBC Good Food and Duolingo can help you learn a new skill whilst you are self-isolated. Puedes agradecernos después.

  1. Be a great neighbour.

Right now our communities need as much support as possible. The chances are your local area has a Covid-19 Mutual Aid support group that needs people to help with supporting those that are most vulnerable. You can just be a voice on the end of a phone, helping comfort those anxious during the crisis. If you are fit, healthy and under 70 years of age, the NHS are asking for volunteers to support their efforts too, although it has been temporarily suspended whilst they process initial applicants. You can find out more here.

  1. Become an e-pen pal.

Can you send an e-mail? Ever had a pen pal? Well now is the time. We are pulling together a list of people from across the world to come together and become e-pen pals. You can share a little about yourself, share stories about how you got involved with digital and keep connected with the outside world, from the safety of your own home. If you are interested in becoming an e-Pen Pal, or you know somebody who’d appreciate an e-mail buddy, please let us know by sending an email to

  1. Keep fit and keep home.

With gyms closed, and current lockdown restrictions limiting us to one outdoor exercise, keeping fit and active physically doesn’t have to be hard. There are live exercise shows by celebrities like Jo Wicks and Davina McCall for you to follow along too. YouTube has millions of videos giving tips and advice on how to keep fit and tutorials on different exercises you can do in the living room. There are even apps like MapMyWalk and podcasts like Couch to 5k, that will help with guided walks in your local area. Remember, if you are exercising outdoors to practice social distancing of more than 2m and not to travel from your home to exercise.

You can access handouts around health and fitness websites and apps by visiting our website.

  1. Price comparison.

A dreaded task that comes around once every 12 months when our car insurance needs doing. Whilst isolated, you will have more than enough time to look at other ways you can save money by price comparing your home insurance, utility bills and even your broadband. Websites like Compare the Market and Broadband Genie can help as well as reading some of the latest deals on the Money Saving Expert website.

  1. Switch off.

Across the DigiKnow network and I’m sure wider, we know that currently we are experiencing uncertain times. People are worried and anxious about what is going on around them. Although we are big believers in the power of digital and how it can enable communities and people to come together in a time like this, it is also important to switch off. The papers, the news on TV and social media is full of information about Coronavirus. With technology at our fingertips, we are never far away from the latest story. Whilst we want to promote trusted sources like the NHS website, we also want to encourage people to turn off their devices and spend time with their immediate loved ones. Again, you shouldn’t be travelling to see friends and family during this time of self-isolation but make time for those in your immediate family and give those living elsewhere a call. Ask them how they are and really listen. Your iPad will still be there when you’ve finished on the phone.

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