Mike Strong is a volunteer coordinator and digital champion for the Devizes community area. After a number of years working in IT, Mike took voluntary redundancy with a view to renovating the house he had recently bought. However, after a few months immersed in painting and decorating, he was ready for a new challenge and decided he wanted to put his IT skills to good use by getting involved in a local project. Luckily for us, he saw our advert on ‘Do-it’ for volunteers to help people as part of our Wiltshire Online programme.
Mike originally applied to be a digital champion. However, the Devizes area had no-one to coordinate the matching of digital champions with learners and therefore, after a bit of persuasion (nicely done of course!) Mike took on the role of volunteer coordinator. He now heads up a small team of digital champions and has approximately 30 learners on his books at any one time.
Mike’s primary role is to identify a learner’s aims and then match them with a digital champion with the appropriate skills. However, Mike is very much hands-on and also supports learners by providing training himself. Mike receives all sorts of requests for help but the most common areas of support are: sending emails, using the internet, online shopping, Skype, digital cameras, downloading and storing photographs (and being able to find them again!), social media and iPads.
Once the project had been up and running for a few months, the ICT Subject Leader at Devizes School contacted Wiltshire Online to discuss the possibility of their sixth form students becoming volunteers. Seizing this initiative, Mike and Jenny Wilcockson, Wiltshire Online’s Business Analyst, undertook a presentation during assembly to explain the role of a digital champion and encourage students to get involved. An impressive 28 pupils expressed interest, far exceeding everyone’s expectations!
In conjunction with Inge Aben, a qualified trainer who had previously worked with Wiltshire Online, Mike and Jenny delivered a day of training for the 24 students who went on to sign up to the scheme. Now, with the excellent support of Devizes Library, Devizes School, the sixth formers and Mike, we are delivering free computer support every Monday afternoon in Devizes Library. Other Wiltshire schools are now looking into the possibility of setting up their own schemes – a true success story indeed. Further information about this initiative can be found here.
So keen are Devizes School to remain involved with the Wiltshire Online programme, in July 2013 they hosted an event for us to provide free support to local residents using tablets or smart-phones. The event was very well attended and again helped to promote the excellent work carried out by our digital champions and raise the profile of the school in the local community.
As well as offering training in the library and people’s homes, Mike has been instrumental in getting Devizes hotels signed up to the scheme. One, the Castle Hotel, has even made a room available for training and others, including The Silk Mercer and The Bear are happy for the public to use their free Wi-Fi connection. This shows that it’s truly a collaborative effort to get the people of Devizes online at no cost to themselves and at a venue that suits their needs.
Another more recent initiative is working with residents in a sheltered housing complex in Devizes. Mike has started providing one to one support for a couple of residents who registered for help with the Wiltshire Online programme. This has generated a lot of interest amongst other residents and discussions are currently ongoing about running some group sessions for them. There is also an open day planned at the Crown Centre in Devizes as a number of their members have now heard about Wiltshire Online and would like to find out more about what help is available.
Recognising the innovative work undertaken by Wiltshire Council and our army of volunteers, Mike has been asked to present at conferences run by BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK – a team within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). These events are well-attended by local government organisations and housing associations, which means that our digital literacy message is being spread far and wide. It’s thanks to the excellent work carried out by our volunteer coordinators and digital champions that Wiltshire Council is seen as a leader in the field of digital inclusion and that other councils are now looking to follow our lead.
So, what has being a volunteer coordinator done for Mike? Well firstly, it has enabled him to use his IT skills to help others (and provided a welcome break from the painting and decorating!) It has also meant that he has had to keep his skills up-to-date and he has recently researched how Windows 8 works so that he is ready and able to help with any support requests. More importantly, it has provided Mike with a life-changing opportunity by helping to identify a new career path. Realising how much he enjoyed teaching others, he has recently gained a PTLLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and has been offered paid employment by digital inclusion giants Digital Unite as an IT trainer. We'd also like to take this opportunity to mention the fact that Mike has recently been shortlisted for Wiltshire's 'Volunteer of the Year' award at the Voluntary and Community Sector Awards 2013, which are taking place on Tuesday 1st October. We wish Mike lots of luck for the event and hope that all his hard work is justly rewarded on the night!
If you or someone you know would benefit from receiving some free computer support then please give us a call on 01225 793349 to see how we can help.