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“The Youth of Today” – End of Year School Report on Digital Heroes

By Matthew Lloyd, Project Manager, Digital Communities Wales

We hear it pretty often don’t we? The youth of today are disengaged, always stuck on their mobile devices, using Snapchat and similar apps. You might get this in the press, in the news, maybe out in our communities, but the reality is that we only seem to get reports of negative stories about our young people. It is hugely distorted and, in our experience of engaging with young people for the first time through our #DigitalHeroes work, nothing could be further from the truth.

Around 18 months back our team sat down to consider how we could boost support to the 15% of people who are currently offline. We knew quite a bit about who they were from the National Survey for Wales, our reports and our 12 years’ experience of delivering digital inclusion in Wales. People are offline for the reasons shown in this graph from the Lloyds Digital Index:

So we had a problem, many people don’t find the internet interesting and/or fear the safety aspects of being online, again down to some of the horror stories we hear through our news channels. At Digital Communities Wales (DCW) we are of the belief that technology is simply a tool just like any other and, used properly, it can ease loneliness, provide fun trips around the world, bring you all the music and video you will ever need and of course there’s online shopping, which can be dangerous in the wrong hands!

As we discussed the challenge before us, we thought “how can we encourage people who are offline to give it a go?” Then we thought about our young people, they have grown up with technology and know it well. What if we trained some of those to help others, to share their knowledge, their skills and start to open up a whole new world through a positive experience. Our #DigitalHeroes programme was born.

We started at a Girl Guiding group in Rhiwbina, Cardiff where the girls were given a little training to help others. It was our first foray into working with young people and we had much to learn. As with any new project we had quite a few teething issues and we weren’t hugely confident in our delivery, so we had to look at how we tailored the content to ensure it was informative yet exciting and enjoyable. That has taken us a while and the team have worked hard to adapt our resources and delivery, to make new Heroes excited about their mission. We’ve since seen Police Youth Volunteers working with our libraries and local banks, while Scouts have been holding digital sessions in their communities.

Our experience of working with our young people in Wales has been hugely rewarding. The warmth, the patience, the understanding, the care and the kindness has been easy for the pupils we have engaged with. Their humour and interest in the people they help, and the sense of fun, has given all of us at DCW a huge amount of satisfaction. We are hugely grateful for their willingness to get involved, to their teachers and to the people who have let us in through their doors to deliver the programme. However, the biggest reward for us has been seeing the difference their help has made to many people in our communities, whether in a care home, hospital ward, community centre or at their school. People like Don, who is a resident of a care home in South Wales.

Don comes alive when the children arrive, they patiently ask what they are interested in on that day and they are both exploring their stories, interests and history. They found out Don loved rollercoasters, so the Heroes loaded a rollercoaster app on the VR headset we have loaned to the care home that Don is a resident of. He loved it; a man who is sometimes anxious, laughs and the connection has been made. Don has since started using the tablet and has recently bought an MP3 player so he can enjoy his love of music. Of course, it’s not just digital support, the pupils write down his favourite birds and help him re-live his love of pigeon racing. This has led to the care home inviting the school in to set off pigeons at an end of term celebration of the relationships the residents and pupils have made; you can just imagine Don’s face can’t you?

This is just the start of #DigitalHeroes for us at DCW, and we are delighted that Skills for Care England have been in touch to look at piloting the idea throughout England too! We have now trained 1250 young people; some continue to volunteer, some can’t wait to return to see their new friends and all of them have been a credit to themselves, and of course their family and school. We have a goal of creating a nation of #DigitalHeroes of all ages, just helping others do something small that would help them, whether that’s Skype to keep in touch with loved ones, online shopping for when the weather gets bad, to book a doctor’s appointment or to watch funny dog videos for hours on end. As long as it brings a smile, a subtle new skill and maybe open that door a little to the positive benefits of technology, then we will all feel that pleasure we have this year, thanks to our #DigitalHeroes.