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Volunteering with Cheylesmore Good Neighbours

What we do

Cheylesmore Good Neighbours (CGN) is a voluntary organisation aimed at encouraging elderly, mainly single people in the Cheylesmore area to get out and socialise. Many people in this situation rarely go out and meet people and this is an increasing issue nationwide. We meet fortnightly in a church hall, although we have no actual connection with the church and arrange speakers, occasional trips out and, of course, provide opportunities for people to chat to one another over a cup of tea and biscuits.

The Digital Divide Looms

During our discussions with our members we realised that many were unable or unwilling to try the internet to see how it might assist them in their lives. The so-called Digital Divide was very evident quite possibly as a result of technological changes which occurred towards the end of their careers as they approached retirement. Many felt “too old” to learn new things and, in addition, there is the added hurdle of needing to buy a device and install broadband. We started to offer lessons using android tablets in small groups of 8 to 10 with two of us acting as teacher and assistant.

The Challenge

Although we had some limited success, the main problem was the various physical disabilities of our members – failing sight, hearing and manual dexterity. As a result, we would rapidly reach a situation where everyone in the class was on a different screen – most likely with none of them on the correct one. We would spend significant time running round sorting people out and although their enthusiasm was high their ability to benefit from a lesson was limited.

An Idea!

Then via a chance meeting, we became aware of a joint initiative at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University which paired older people with student volunteers to teach computer basics. Two of us took a trip to Nottingham to see a class in action and we were very impressed. Although some aspects of the Nottingham activity were not appropriate to us, the one-to-one student volunteer – learner concept looked a winner.

Attract Volunteers!

We contacted the Student Volunteer Office at Warwick to see if we might be able to attract some interest and as a result had a table at the 2016 Volunteering Fair along with many other organisations offering volunteering opportunities. There is no doubt that the Fair showcased lots of different ways to help the local community – it’s just a case of deciding what you want to get involved with! The Volunteer Office were extremely helpful, the students visiting the Fair very enthusiastic and by the end of the day we had enough volunteers to organise our first sessions.

It seems to work

Initially we offered each learner 4 2-hourly sessions on a weekly basis, which ideally requires the student (and their learner) to commit to 4 consecutive Wednesday afternoons. We have since been experimenting with single, double and treble lessons depending on student availability and learner needs. Our members can be anything from absolute beginners who learn on a loan android tablet, through to members who already have a device and lack the confidence to actually use them. We ask our students to set their learners “homework” so they can practice what they have learned.

Very basic stuff

We try as much as possible to match our student volunteers’ experience with our members’ needs. To those students who wonder if they know enough to be able to teach these skills, I can assure them that anyone who qualifies to attend the University will be streets ahead of our members. A common question from our members, who may already have a device purchased for them by their relatives, is “How do I switch it on?” Another one is “Can I surf the internet on this?” The more advanced ones may ask how to get photographs off their phone to send to others. But we were very surprised by one old lady. Jenni staggered into the room on 2 walking sticks with her laptop in a bag suspended from her neck. It took her ages to sit down. When her student Robin asked how could he help she promptly produced a Visual Basic macro she was having trouble debugging! Robin did a magnificent job but that is a very unusual example.

New friends are made

In addition to the lesson, we find that often the student and learner will strike up a friendship which lasts over the whole period of the lessons. Several of our members have bought “Thank You” cards for their last time together. One student volunteer made a cake for the whole class and another invited her learner to her graduation ceremony. Many of our members remark subsequently how much they enjoyed it and “how lovely” their student was. Student volunteers often mention how they enjoyed the challenge of trying to explain in easy terms how to use what for them is an everyday tool. One of our students (a Lloyds scholar) has taken on the role of managing the student allocation activity which has been a great help to us.

Contact: Alex or Yvonne at yerob91@yahoo.co.uk

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During a session