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Celebrating digital volunteers for Volunteers’ Week – Connection and Collaboration

Digital Volunteering is something that shouldn’t be under estimated. As part of volunteers week, Jenny Phillips has looked back over the past year and the important role they’ve played during the pandemic.

Volunteers Week logo. The text reads 'Wythnos Gwirfoddolwyr', 'Volunteers' Week'. The image is of a multicoloured shooting star, with the date '1-7 June', '1-7 Mehefin'

Volunteers Week logo. The text reads ‘Wythnos Gwirfoddolwyr’, ‘Volunteers’ Week’. The image is of a multicoloured shooting star, with the date ‘1-7 June’, ‘1-7 Mehefin’

This Volunteers’ Week we want to celebrate the contribution of Digital Volunteers.  To thank every person across Wales who has given up their time to reach out to someone and help them to take their first steps into the digital world.

The pandemic has shown us that digital skills can be our only means of contacting our loved ones, engaging with the outside world, linking to our communities, accessing goods, medical services, and carrying out our jobs. Rather than being a nice thing to have or a string to our bow, having the skills and confidence to use technology and to get online became a lifeline during the pandemic.

Digital volunteers across Wales over the past year have been responsible for supporting some of the most excluded and vulnerable people in our communities. The recent Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index[1] showed that 13% of the Welsh population were classed as ‘offline’, 8% above the UK average. However, Wales ranked second only to London in terms of the digital confidence of its citizens who were able to use the internet. This shows a very stark divide in Wales between those who can, and those who cannot use the internet.

Digital volunteers have the power to reach across this divide.  They can support people to build their confidence, to learn how to engage with technology and to connect with it in a way that is meaningful to them. Those who are able join a video call can imagine how powerful it is to see a familiar face after endless days alone. As one volunteer put it after helping someone to join a video call for the first time, “When we finally saw each other, it was breath taking.”

The case studies that we are sharing with you this Volunteers’ Week show us the incredible positive impact of digital volunteering.  The stories are not about the technology, but about the people and the connections between them.

A similar theme of connection can be seen in recent research from the Wales Centre for Public Policy[2]. The future looks likely to be a blended mix of face-to-face and virtual connections and spaces for us all. The research recommends that we need to collaborate to build inclusive on and offline spaces as we recover from the pandemic. The Welsh Government has published a Digital Strategy for Wales[3] that outlines a vision for this collaborative digital future. The importance of the role of volunteers in helping to achieve this vision cannot be understated. We need people to give up their time to reach out to others and support them with empathy and patience on their digital journey.  Digital volunteers will be an essential part of helping us to bring everyone in Wales along on the journey towards a digitally confident Wales.