Tech-savvy Volunteers Keeping Vulnerable Residents In Touch With Loved Ones During COVID-19

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A digital mentor service created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has kept some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents connected during these challenging times.

TechMates was launched by Wigan Council to prevent isolation for those residents who are unable to leave their homes and lack the basic digital skills to utilise technology. This is where volunteers and council staff have stepped up to the plate.

As a TechMate, they provide one-to-one basic digital support over the telephone, helping residents build their digital skill-set through the use of different devices and tools so they can browse the internet, communicate with friends and family and access essential online services when they need it most.

One user of the service, Dorothy, relies on lipreading to understand others so she was given a tutorial via Facetime. Dorothy said: “Being without my iPad was a big worry to me, I felt socially isolated and it was making me anxious.

“I’m lost without it because using FaceTime on my iPad allows me to lip read. When you live on your own, it’s so important to have contact with the outside world, so I want to thank my TechMates Paul, Tracey and Sam. It was like my prayers were being answered. The help I’ve received and the understanding and kindness they’ve shown me has given me the confidence I thought I’d lost.”

Sam Boffey, deputy member of the Youth Parliament, is Dorothy’s dedicated TechMate, speaking regularly with her on video chat to provide ongoing support and help her develop basic digital skills

Sam, 15, said: “Being a TechMate for Dorothy has had many benefits, from seeing the smile on her face when I teach her a new skill or helping her contact family who live abroad, it’s such a rewarding role.  Since becoming the first TechMate for Wigan Council, I have been involved in training 15 more volunteers who are all now helping to improve people’s digital skills.

“I believe everyone has the right to be digitally included and that it can have a hugely positive impact on a person’s life. This is why I decided to focus on digital inclusion in my manifesto. The pandemic has highlighted how crucial being online can be. It’s no longer a choice but a necessity.”

Currently 20 volunteers are supporting residents and a full training programme has been created for anyone else who is keen to volunteer. For those who need support, requests are made through an online self-referral form, either for yourself or on behalf of someone else.

Although the scheme was originally introduced to build digital confidence among vulnerable residents, the council is now hoping to broaden its audience

To connect with one of our TechMates and get digital support, just complete our online self-referral form.