Digital inclusion has never been as important as it is now: when COVID-19 hit our communities and suddenly many people had to stay at home, and apart from their family, friends and support networks, it brought into sharp focus the inequalities that exist when it comes to having and using a digital device for many tasks that we now see as essential. Programmes like Connecting Scotland helped many people to get a device, and volunteers have been an essential part of providing the necessary support to allow recipients to make best use of their devices and make them work for their individual needs and interests.
AbilityNet is one third sector organisation that helps with digital skills and inclusion – in 2020 Falkirk volunteer Ahndi joined them having realised that his skills would be a good fit for their Tech Volunteer role. Lynsey spoke to Ahndi to find out more about his volunteering journey, and what it’s like to help people develop their digital skills:
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in your volunteer role and what that role entails?
Ahndi: I signed up with Volunteer Falkirk in the summer of 2020. I subsequently received monthly newsletters from CVS Falkirk and in November 2020 a ‘Tech Volunteer’ role was advertised which sounded very interesting and suited my skills set. I emailed my interest in the role to yourself!, and you sent me full details, which made me more interested. I had an online interview with one of the regional co-ordinators just before Christmas 2020 and was offered a volunteering role after that. After the DBS process completed, I did my ‘New Start’ induction, and was matched up with my first client on 29 January 2021 (somebody in Newcastle!!!). Because of COVID-19, I supported my first 5 or 6 clients remotely and I was not able to do my first home visit until June 2021.
(Image caption (right): a photo of Ahndi.)
The role involves providing technical assistance to clients, who have issues with technology such as laptops, desktops, iPads, tablets, smart speakers, smart TVs, smart phones etc.
We usually need to contact a client who has been referred to our services (or who has got in touch with AbilityNet directly). We have to understand the real issue the client is experiencing. I would then determine the best course of action to resolve this issue, which might be possible via remote support, or may involve a client visit. It can also involve picking up ‘new’ equipment and setting it up for a client to use, and then doing some subsequent training. Sometimes a single client visit is enough, but often multiple visits are required.
What is your favourite part of your volunteer role?
Ahndi: Meeting the clients (virtually or face to face), who all have their own stories, and being able to resolve an issue for them. Seeing the client’s enjoyment when they are suddenly able to do something they could not do previously. And also learning more about technology that I am may not be so familiar with myself.
What has been your most memorable moment as a volunteer?
Ahndi: Watching a client and his wife looking at old photographs that I had made available on his Smart TV. The photos were from pages of an old school register from the Second World War from a local school that my client had worked at years before. It detailed the rehousing of kids to the local neighbourhood and who ended up at the local school. My client and his wife recognised many names, and one of the entries from the 1940s was for a lady who took in two kids. She lived in the same house as my client’s 88 year old pal who he meets up with on a Friday night for a couple of drinks!
Lynsey: What a lovely story!
Have there been any challenges in your volunteer role?
Ahndi: Sometimes simply getting in touch with a client can be difficult. They may have no messaging service on their phone, or are very hard of hearing, so it can sometimes take a bit of time making initial contact. You also need to be careful not to try and cover too much in a visit and it is always important to gauge the ability of the client. And of course, wearing Face Masks on home visits makes communication a bit more difficult.
What would you say to others who are thinking about volunteering?
Ahndi: Giving up a bit of your time for the benefit of somebody else is such a great thing to do. Lots of people need assistance to make their world a better place and everybody has the ability to make a positive difference to others.
If you’re inspired by Ahndi’s story and think you could help people grow their confidence and skills using a digital device, please visit the Volunteer Scotland website to find out more about, and note your interest in, the Tech Volunteer role with AbilityNet.
(Image caption (left): two people sitting at and a laptop, with their bodies out of frame; one person is pointing to something on the screen, while the other uses the mousepad.)