Stories from the community: Online Chum Mentoring
Bob Dennis from the Park View Project in Newcastle tells us about their Online Chum Mentoring scheme, pairing more digitally skilled members of their community with people looking to improve their digital skills.
With the spread of the coronavirus around the UK and much of the world, we’re facing challenging times ahead.
We’re supporting our network partners, who are often a vital lifeline for socially and digitally excluded people. These organisations are using a range of techniques to support people and are playing a crucial role in helping them to access the digital tools and resources they need.
One of these centres is Park View Project in Newcastle. Its services help vulnerable people gain and use digital skills through online mentoring, active learning programmes and volunteering opportunities. A month after the nation went into lockdown, Development Worker Bob Dennis tells us how they’ve been getting on:
This month has been by far the most difficult in the history of our organisation. We, like everyone else in the country, have had to adapt quickly to completely unpredictable and worrying circumstances.
We realised early on that one of our main schemes – Volunteer Online Chum Mentoring – was going to be central to our services.
The scheme pairs some of our more digitally skilled members alongside those with little experience of access to the internet. We try to match people who are living with similar problems to one another so there’s a natural understanding and affinity.
Once the lockdown was announced, we took this digital peer support learning programme into full gear, pairing up as many people as possible in the first week including many we had never been in contact with before. The list of people who needed help with their digital skills included people with learning disabilities, older people, ex-service people, unemployed residents and children of all abilities.
Learn My Way modules – free, easy access courses offered by Good Things Foundation allowing people to learn a variety of digital skills – have been a godsend. The courses are effective because they can be self-taught with easy–to-follow steps. The Digital Champions module in particular has given our volunteer peer support tutors a stronger vault of learning resources.
Face-to-face contact has always been important but we now have to address this shortfall in as many ways as possible. Social isolation is the biggest battle.
Good Things Foundation has helped us meet this challenge. One of the reasons we were able to set things up so quickly was by following some of their webinars, which helped us to set up video conferencing for our beneficiaries.
We’ve seen some amazing transformations occur with our learners, some of whom have been able to provide support for others for the first time.
Matt, a young man with a learning disability, came to us four years ago, after being referred by one of our partner organisations. He faces challenges including short-term memory recall and problems understanding right and wrong behaviour.
Over the years Matt attended our drop in sessions at least three times a week where he learnt new tools helping him develop his personal skills. Slowly, his confidence began to increase and he was able to get involved with more advanced tasks, including helping us with our online presence.
Matt eventually registered with our in-house “Community Reporters” active learning course, which involves going out to create a story about anything interesting happening in the community. The course allowed him to fine tune his communication skills, get to know people and increase his social circles of support in our local community.
Matt progressed onto some of our other advanced courses and eventually acquired his Digital Champion status just weeks before the coronavirus began to spread rapidly in the UK. Since early March he has come full circle in his journey by helping others to cope during the crisis.
Matt has been a searchlight for our project and is a shining example of what can be achieved given the right level of support and access to digital tools.