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Digital volunteering ‘life changing’ for Roland

Originally from Bristol, Roland Poole lives in the Cwmtillery area of Blaenau Gwent.

However, due to his local links and the support he has received in the Caerphilly Borough area, he has become an important part of the Caerphilly Communities First Digital Inclusion Team as a volunteer. This has had noticeable benefits to his self-confidence and has given Roland the opportunity to be more positive about his mental health.

Previously, Roland had worked as a sales representative and had owned his own business. He is highly educated with an MSc in Computer Science and has a passion for information technology. Roland does suffer from a number of physical and mental health conditions, which had previously dented his confidence and isolated him from the community. These conditions include cataract problems, immune disorders and Roland has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Communities First Referral

When the symptoms of Roland’s mental health became particularly acute, he was supported at Ysbyty Fawr in Ystrad Mynach, where he was referred to the Men’s Den project in Abertillery where he received support from another participant, John Parker. Before engaging with the sessions, Roland was very isolated and his personal standards had dropped. This particular project gave Roland the opportunity to spend time in a safe environment where he could relax, play sports and share experiences with other males. Roland believes this was a very positive experience as it gave him the opportunity to break his isolation, get out of his home and speak with other people – in essence, it made him feel ‘like life was still worth living’ and he continues to attend the sessions to this day.

As Roland began to see improvements in himself, John recommended that given his background in IT, he should consider volunteering with the Digital Fridays Project, which would give him the opportunity to not only pass on his skills and experience, but further boost his confidence.

Volunteering with Digital Fridays

The first step for Roland towards volunteering was to meet the coordinator of Caerphilly Communities First digital inclusion projects, Matthew Bevan. During the initial meeting, Roland was honest, open and frank about his experiences and that he was currently apprehensive about dealing with the public. However, recognising the skills and experiences he had, Matthew agreed that Roland would be a major asset to the project, providing he was supported and introduced to the sessions by Communities First Digital Inclusion Officer, Cerian Thomas.

Roland was extremely grateful for the support he had received from Cerian and found the support helpful but also subtle in that she did not belittle him. It was not long before Roland’s confidence had really grown and was able to support participants with less supervision.

Roland believes volunteering with Digital Fridays is a challenge, which is a benefit to him as he also finds it stimulating and interesting. However, he also feels that the opportunity is at the right pace and stress level for him for his personal needs.

On a typical day, Roland meets the team around 10am and supports a regular group of people who are interested in researching their family tree. He also has regular clients including an elderly lady who requires support with viewing online photos from foreign trips she has been on over the years. Recalling another example of how he has really supported clients, Roland described a time when he helped a lady who he supported in communicating online with her sister. This particular lady would often receive emails from her sister but would not write back due to her lack of skills. As a result of the support she has received from Roland, she has improved her skills in using emails and is now in regular touch with her sister. Roland has also supported many people with ad-hoc computer and tablet problems and is enjoying the diversity of the role.

Commenting on his time volunteering, Roland recalls
‘I have really enjoyed volunteering at Digital Fridays and it has improved my confidence by miles. After many years of being depressed, it has got me out of my house, back talking to people and has improved my mood noticeably. Previously my condition was a major barrier to me, but the opportunity has really helped me. I now feel that life is worth living.’

Recognisable Benefits

The opportunity to volunteer with the team has been a major success for Roland and has helped improve his mental health. His patience with dealing with the public has improved, which given that many participants have little or no understanding of computers is further evidence of Roland’s improved social skills. During his time at the project, Roland has developed a style of support where he teaches people how to sort out IT problems rather than doing it for them, which has made him a popular member of the team with participants.

As a result of volunteering, Roland has also recognised tangible benefits to his health and feels more mindful. Previously, Roland felt that the world was against him, but now feels calmer and looks for coping strategies to problems he encounters.

He has not accessed emergency support from the hospital for over a year- with previous support being regular – which he partially attributes to his time with Communities First and the opportunity to develop new tools to tackle problems. He now takes greater pride in himself, is mixing more with other people and is starting to feel happier in everyday life.