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Café volunteers provide lifeline for computer learners in Barry

From Mark Smith, Digital Content Officer, Digital Communities Wales

Our country’s café culture is on the rise, with more people choosing tea and cake over a pint, and while we see plenty of people on their phones, tablets and laptops while tucking into their grub, would you expect to be taught how to use those devices at the same time?

Well, one café in Barry offers all of the above…and more.

When you walk into the Age Connects café in Barry, it feels like any other, with tables and chairs laid out and lots of options for lunch or a hot drink. However, look a little further down the café on a Thursday morning and you see something altogether different going on.

People are volunteering to help others get to grips with digital technology, teaching them how to use computers and get online. On this particular occasion, I met a member of staff from Newydd Housing who sets up drop-in sessions throughout the Vale of Glamorgan, for people to come in and get whatever tech help they needed. There were two digital volunteers, Jane and Michael, and two learners who both brought their own laptops to the session.

I wanted to know more about why Michael and Jane had become digital volunteers and what the role entailed. Both had joined the local 50+ forum and soon realised that they wanted to help people learn about computers and the Internet, and pass their skills on having received training themselves from Digital Communities Wales.

“We help people with new devices, setting them up. Other people just want a one-off session about setting up e-mail or staying in contact with family” Jane told me. “It varies – some people know nothing and come now and again, but we get a buzz when they leave knowing more than when they came in”, she added.

Michael told me that older people see grandchildren playing on computers and they want to know more, but they can get frustrated. He said “we can make them feel more comfortable when learning”.

Jane went on to tell me about some of the wider benefits of their work, “The people we help build up their confidence and self-esteem, they become more aware of what’s out there for them. Online shopping is a good example. We’ve helped people who have family abroad, to e-mail pictures and go on Skype. The experience opens up a whole new world for them. They can book GP appointments instead of going to the surgery – you really do need to be online these days”.

“If you like helping people you don’t have to be a whizkid on a computer, just know the basics. There is lots of training available for you and if you want to help people, upgrade your skills and teach others, then find out about getting involved”, Jane added.

Michael rounded off the conversation nicely, “A friend asked me about becoming a volunteer and getting training, so I told him about the Digital Communities Wales website and the things that were on there that could help him”.