Becoming a digital champion gives Matt a reboot

31 Jan 2017

A man from Northampton has had a bit of a reboot - thanks to a national project, digital skills, and the help of a local Online Centre.

Matt (not his real name), 30, met Dan Dimmer from Abington Centre for Education at Berrywood hospital - which helps people with mental health conditions get back on their feet. Dan has been going along to offer digital skills sessions to residents and visitors as part of Good Things Foundation’s Reboot UK programme.

Matt was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at 19, and has been in and out of hospital for years. He ended up at Berrywood after a stint in prison - at a time when he was really struggling to manage his condition. Learning new skills with Dan - and then volunteering to help others do the same - has been a key part of his journey to get back on track.

Matt says: “Dan visited my ward at Berrywood Hospital, and asked if I would like to join some classes. I started off doing some English literacy stuff, and we carried on until I was ready to do IT lessons. I’ve always had an interest in IT, and I thought it would help me get some qualifications under my belt. It gave me something to concentrate on and something to do while I was in hospital.

“I was able to use computers a bit before I started work with Dan. But now I’ve been able to increase my knowledge and learn about things like social media, and how to access my accounts not just from a laptop or PC but from a mobile phone. I liked the Learn My Way website and how it remembered where you left off with the courses, and it’s given me some more confidence in my skills.”

As Matt’s confidence improved so did his condition, and he’s now moved out of Berrywood into supported accommodation. He continues: “When I left the hospital, I started to go and visit Dan at his centre in Wellingborough. That’s when Dan suggested I become a Digital Champion. I was really pleased to be asked! With Dan’s help I’ve learnt how to help others who want to learn computers skills with the Learn My Way courses. Then I started going back to Berrywood to help teach other patients who were in a similar situation to me when I was in hospital.

“I enjoy helping others to learn, and I’ve found that being friendly helps people relax and learn when I demonstrate something. I think it probably also helps that they know I’ve been in their shoes too - so I know some of the challenges they face. When I was ill, for instance, I couldn’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes on anything. So it’s important to go slowly and let people repeat things if they need to.

“Being a Digital Champion has been great for me - I get work experience, and it’s really given me confidence working in a social environment. I owe Dan a big thank you for meeting me and giving me the opportunity to learn IT skills and volunteer at his centre. Now I want to do as much as I can for Dan’s centre as a volunteer and tutor. Hopefully it will lead to paid work.”

“I’m so much better now I have a purpose and a routine,” concludes Matt. “I can handle things much better in my daily life and I’m very optimistic about the future. Everybody needs IT for everyday life, and I like helping others learn how to make the most of it. I’ve come a long way, and it hasn’t been easy. My mum and my sister are really proud of me, though, and that’s a really good feeling.”

For Dan’s part, he’s delighted to have Matt on board as a volunteer. He says: “Matt is a natural as a tutor, and he’s great at putting people at ease. He lets his learners set the pace, and he’s incredibly patient. We’re lucky to have to him! When I first met Matt, he was quite shy and occasionally withdrawn. It’s been great to see him come out of himself and get his confidence back. He’s worked really hard to get where he is now, and I’m incredibly pleased that Abington Centre for Education could play a part in that.”