Digital Buddies in Covid

The concept of digital buddies – volunteers who help people to use their laptops and smartphones to stay connected – has become more urgent during the pandemic. Vulnerable, elderly or shielding people have become more reliant on technology than ever before. 

At the same time, Covid-19 made clear the scale of the digital divide. Some small, local, `grass roots’ charities are recruiting and enabling volunteers to help support patients’ digital needs in the community.

1: Define the buddies’ role clearly

Vista is a local charity in the English Midlands supporting children and adults with sight loss. The buddies aim to support the individual’s needs, which may range from helping them deal with a specific IT problem, through to long term support as they build their confidence and skills.

On their volunteer page the charity lays out the detailed role, responsibilities of the digital buddy, together with the training and support they will receive.

For example, as well as helping people with sight loss to carry out common IT tasks safely, the buddies may also help them to:

  • Download and using newly developed apps that can benefit people with sight loss
  • Use additional accessibility equipment effectively (such as screen readers and digital magnifiers).

2: Train and support buddies in engaging ways

The Salford Foundation is a local charity providing opportunities to enable young people and adults to support their communities. They set up their Digital Buddies programme as part of their response to the pandemic. 

They aim to link:

“…people in these communities to trained young people to help with any digital and tech issues they may be having, as well as to have a chat and form a friendship in these isolating times.” – Salford Foundation

To help them carry out their role, buddies complete an interactive training module and have access to an online resource bank. The Foundation monitors the relationship to make sure it’s “safe and healthy for everyone involved.”

3: Give the buddies the resources they need to explain common tasks

Outside the Box is a small independent Scottish charity which helps to develop community support. They set up their growing Digital Buddies programme to enable older people in the Scottish Borders to connect digitally with friends, family, groups and the wider world.

During the pandemic, the buddies have needed to be people within the person’s `support bubble’, for example friends or family. Sometimes, the charity also provides tablets, and the buddy helps the person to get started on common tasks, whether shopping, watching films on streaming services, going to zoom church services.

The charity sums up the benefit of recruiting and supporting the buddies:

“They allowed us to have a much more individualised approach, with each person deciding what and when they want to learn something.” – Outside the Box

To help the buddy to support each person, the charity is producing an increasing range of step by step guides on common tasks including how to:

  • Set up a tablet, including using its accessibility settings
  • Keep your device charged
  • Send and receive emails
  • Make video calls
  • Listen to podcasts.

The charity shares the experience of Anna, one of the people supported by her buddy:

“Anna wanted to be able to video call her family and join family events that were happening virtually due to the pandemic. With the help of her buddy, family friend she has attended her niece’s wedding, and her great niece in the America’s graduation.” – Outside the Box


View how Vista define the buddies’ role at…

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Find out more about the Salford Foundation project at…

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Find out how the Scottish project is growing at… 

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Visit our sister blog, and twitter #PAGC19, which brings together examples of how patient groups are supporting their patients during the pandemic at…

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