Hestia's Digital Champion service: Omar and Key’s story

Thursday, 20 May 2021, marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Written by Cosimo Matteini, Digital Inclusion Coordinator

Cosimo Matteini, Digital Inclusion Coordinator

Recognising the digital divide that Covid-19 had accentuated, Hestia’s Digital Innovation Team decided to provide a remote digital champion service to increase digital inclusion. Our aim was to support service users by helping them to familiarise with technology, learn new skills and building their confidence in accessing the digital world.

When the service started, I recruited a team of volunteer digital champions to contact service users referred to the service. The volunteers support service users with a range of things, such as connecting to internet, creating an email address, downloading and using Zoom and chatting on WhatsApp.

Communicating through digital is commonplace and taken for granted by many, but Covid has highlighted how vital it is to be able to keep in touch with people this way.

Digital inclusion is social inclusion.

As well as being able to socialise online, people need to be able to do things like pay bills, access information, look for a job and apply for benefits. Almost everything is now done online.

As well as being familiar with technology, volunteer digital champions need the ability to relate to people, being patient and an understanding of how people learn. Digital champions work with service users to celebrate the knowledge and skills they already have, whilst supporting them to develop extra skills at their own pace.  

One of the volunteer digital champions is Omar. Having already volunteered for Hestia before, we knew that Omar’s empathetic approach would be perfect for the role. Here, he shares his experience of the role.

Omar's experience

Omar, volunteer digital champion

When I started volunteering as a digital champion, I was working as a game developer. In the past, I have volunteered for Hestia as a Befriender as well as other roles at other charities.

As tech is a common tool for communication, admin and support, it’s important everyone, especially those most vulnerable, are comfortable using it. I have good tech skills and I was keen to share them. I also wanted to speak to people whom I may not necessarily meet in my social bubble.

I support people directly by being approachable, easy to talk to and by creating a comfortable environment for them to learn how to use a computer for various tasks.

Understanding basic tasks on a computer has the potential to have a big impact in someone’s life.

It’s like learning a new language, it opens you up to a whole new world. I hope to teach them a few words to help them kick off their journey.

I am happy to have the opportunity to make a difference. This role has helped me feel more confident with uncertainty. I enjoy the experience; it takes me out of my comfort zone, which is always good. I would suggest this role to someone who enjoys speaking with new people because sharing computer skills is only half the role, the other half is essentially befriending.

Among some of the service users whom Omar has supported is Key, who attends Hestia's south west London Recovery Cafe, a service which provides a safe space for people to find support if they feel they may be moving towards, or are currently experiencing, a mental health crisis. 

Key's experience

I have an old computer, but I only knew the basics on how to use it. In the past, someone helped me to create an email address, but I became unwell, and I forgot how to use it. Staff at the Recovery Café referred me to the Digital Champion Service, to help me familiarise again with using email, as in the future I would like to improve my skills and use the computer to attend college courses.

I was contacted by Omar, a Digital Champion, to support me with getting online. Omar called me on a couple of occasions, for about half an hour, to help setting up my computer. Omar is very patient and is able to guide me on using the computer; he can understand the problem, describe what I need to do, break it down into small steps and tell me what I need to click. Omar has also been caring and supported me very sensitively one day when I was feeling tearful.

With the help from Omar, I am now able to receive and send emails.

I’m planning to book another couple of sessions with him, as I would like to download and learn to use Zoom. Being able to use Zoom will allow me to connect to the online activities organised at the Recovery Café.

In the next few weeks, we will be expanding the service; more volunteers will be recruited so that we can reach more service users within Hestia. As the lockdown is slowly easing, we are exploring complementing the service with face-to-face digital support, as well as group sessions on digital skills. Whilst some of the aspects of the crisis are expected to improve in the next few weeks, digital inclusion will continue to be an important part of the support we provide.