Over the past few years CommuniTech has been bringing people together to share their technology skills and advice. But we aren’t the only organisation that wants to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe using their tech devices. Meet Age UK’s Digipals! Very similar to Tech & Tea, Digipals are free, drop-in sessions that aim to increase tech knowledge and skills.
In this blog we’ll be asking Emma Chisholm, who set-up and leads the Digipals project in addition to her marketing and community fundraising work at Age UK Wandsworth, what Digipals is all about.
For anyone that hasn’t heard, what is Digipals?
Digipals is a new service from Age UK Wandsworth that offers friendly computer support to older people in Wandsworth. With so much of life’s ‘admin’ now online, older people are at risk of digital isolation. Our ‘drop-in’ sessions are held in four local libraries and anyone over 60 can come along to get help with a specific issue or, if they wish, follow a modular course.
Service-users can use the Library computers or bring their own devices.
What can a first timer expect when they first attend a Digipals session?
Digipals is staffed by a team of friendly volunteers so the first thing you get at our sessions is a smile! We understand that computers and the internet can be a source of anxiety for some older people. So, we spend some time chatting about what experience they have and what they would like to be able to do. We then match each service-user with a volunteer who will assist them with their learning and work at their pace.
How are your sessions different to Tech & Tea?
Digipals is different to ‘Tech and Tea’ in that we don’t have fixed subjects each session, a service-user can come to us with any problem or choose to follow a modular learning course. We can offer basic support on a number of subjects and sometimes we are supporting people who have never touched a computer or held a mouse!
Tech and Tea have ‘Tech Talks’ which focus more on raising awareness of what technology can be used for or how to use specific tech devices. It's then followed by a workshop, where individuals can ask questions about anything (even if it's not linked to the topic). I can imagine some of our more advanced users would benefit from the extra advice given during Tech Talks, and so we shall certainly be referring them to Tech and Tea!
I think it’s great that there are two brilliant options in our borough for older people who want to learn more about IT and the internet. By working together we can ensure that older people in Wandsworth get the right level of support and that we help as many people as possible feel confident online.
How did Digipals start?
At Age UK Wandsworth we have contact with over 9000 older people each year and ‘help with computers’ was frequently requested. We knew from previous work in this area that older people want tailored support so they can work at their own pace and not feel anxious or embarrassed at having to ask lots of questions. We wanted to offer a service that was friendly, flexible and accessible to all older people.
After a successful pilot we secured funding from the Wandsworth Grant Fund and we now operate weekly in four different libraries in rotation – Wandsworth, Southfields, Roehampton and Tooting.
It’s clear from the rising number of service users that there is a huge demand for this kind of service and we look forward to expanding the service in the future.
What advice would you give to someone attending Digipals for the first time?
I would advise anyone attending to perhaps make a list of the things you might like to ask about before you come. We are always happy to work at your pace but you will get more out of the session if we focus on what’s important to you. If you are bringing your own device do bring the charging cable and perhaps also bring a notebook so you can write down anything that might help you when working by yourself.
How can people get involved in volunteering with Digipals?
We would love more volunteers! As word has got out, we have an increasing demand for the service, and we want to make sure everyone who comes gets adequate support and attention.
You don’t need to be an IT expert or computer whizz, just computer literate, friendly and supportive. The sessions are all Tuesday or Wednesday mornings so you’ll need to have weekday availability.
Digipals is a lovely team and we meet the most wonderful people. If you are interested in volunteering or would like to find out more simply contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where can people find out more about Digipals?
We have more information and the next session dates on our website at https://www.ageuk.org.uk/wandsworth/our-services/digipals/
Or just contact me on email@example.com