Dorset’s volunteer digital champions help record number of people
Dorset Council’s volunteer digital champions service had its busiest year in 2023 with more than 2,000 face-to-face appointments.
The volunteer scheme, which also celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, held 2,063 appointments and saw more than 1,800 people.
In previous years, the volunteers held on average between 1,000 and 1,500 sessions.
Dorset Council has 45 volunteers based at libraries, community centres, GP surgeries and even at a café in Wareham.
Their face-to-face sessions can be found from Ferndown in the east to Lyme Regis in the west, and from Portland in the south to Gillingham in the north – and many places in between.
Community groups can also book a volunteer digital champion to speak to their members.
Cllr Jill Haynes, the council’s portfolio holder for Corporate Development and Transformation, said: “The record number of visits to our volunteer digital champions shows just how much the help they offer is needed.
“Some people might be surprised that in 2023 there was still a significant number of people who need digital help.
“However, digital services are increasing and evolving all the time, and it can be difficult for some people to keep up to speed in this fast-paced world of change.
“We know the real benefits digital can bring to people’s lives and we would urge anyone who does not feel confident using technology to come and see our wonderful volunteer digital champions who are ready and waiting to help.”
The volunteer digital champion service was set up in 2013 when Dorset Council’s superfast team realised that rolling out broadband to people was not enough to get them online.
When take-up figures of the new superfast broadband were lower than expected, the team realised that some people needed to be motivated and supported to take up the new technology now at their disposal.
And the volunteer digital champion scheme was born.
Since then, the army of volunteers has grown and is helping people not just to get online but to also make the most of what is on offer in an increasingly digital world.
The volunteers help with things like online shopping, Zoom meetings, comparison sites, apps, GP booking appointment systems and getting to grips with new devices like smart phones, tablets and laptops.
They also provide help over the phone via the Digital Hotline – 01305 221048 – which was set up during the Covid pandemic.
Volunteer digital champion, Mike Watson, said: “I am delighted that so many people know about the service we offer and are coming to see us.
“We are a very friendly bunch and will aim to help with any digital issue someone may have – and if we can’t help there and then, we will go away and research and come back with a solution.
“Some people only need to come and see us once, for example if they just need a bit of guidance on how to use a new device.
“While others will keep coming back to us as they want to keep on learning and become more confident using digital.
“Whatever advice is needed, we are ready and waiting to help – no problem is too big or too small.”
People can find their nearest volunteer digital champion session by calling the hotline or by going to www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/volunteer-digital-champions
Community groups interested in booking a volunteer digital champion can email email@example.com for more information.