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Digital Heroes – two years of making a difference to communities in Wales

By Matt Lloyd, Project Manager of Digital Communities Wales

With 15% of people in Wales not online (around 400,000 adults), Digital Communities Wales took a step back two years ago to assess how we could increase the amount of people supporting others to get online. During our reflection we discussed how our younger people have grown up with technology and are usually very familiar with a digital device.  The more we thought about it, the more we realised there was a huge community asset just waiting for mobilisation.

We quickly developed a pilot under the name Digital Heroes and approached a girl guiding group.  The girls received training from DCW and set up a “Digital Evening”. They invited people from the community along to the evening where small groups of guides led on different topics – online shopping, safety, YouTube and iPlayer, email and Skype.  Feedback was positive and we thought this was something worth investing more time in.

Everyone benefits
Fast forward two years and we now have 1250 Digital Heroes across Wales from primary and secondary schools, colleges, scout and girl guiding groups, police youth volunteers and, coming soon, universities.

Little did we expect the response to be so positive and the project so sought after. With the Digital Heroes programme, everyone is a winner:

  1. The Digital Heroes pass on their digital skills giving them an esteem boost and introducing them to volunteering at a young age.
  2. The school engages in valuable community activity and sometimes makes new, sustainable links.
  3. The recipients of support learn a new skill, enjoy the company of the young volunteers and they all share quality time exploring their stories, interests and history.

The beauty of Heroes though lies in the results we hear from the people the Digital Heroes support. This could be in a care homes, hospital ward or at a community group.  One such person is Ken:

Ken is a resident of a care home in Tredegar and he comes alive when the Digital Heroes visit, The Digital heroes found out Ken loved rollercoasters, so they found a rollercoaster app on the VR headset DCW had loaned to the care home.

He loved it; a man who was previously often anxious loves the support and interaction with the pupils and they love to see him. Ken has since started using the tablet and has 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.

In the case of Ken and many others, the Heroes ask questions and patiently build a friendly relationship with the people they are supporting. There are many other stories of people who have benefitted from the programme and momentum is growing both in Wales and outside.

If you and your school are interested in working with DCW to train your pupils to become Digital Heroes, please get in touch.

Matthew Lloyd, Project Manager for Digital Communities Wales

Matthew Lloyd is Project Manager for Digital Communities Wales