How Dorset Council helped people to get online during the Covid pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic
Dorset Council had 65 plus volunteer digital champions working in libraries and other community settings helping people to get online.
Our champions helped people face to face, either to get online for the first time or to build up their confidence doing all things digital.
And then came the pandemic and suddenly we had to halt all our face to face sessions. What now for the people of Dorset who were not digitally confident? How could we help when suddenly everyone was asked to stay at home?
What support could we offer to people in this time of emergency when, suddenly digital had become more important than it had ever been before?
Our answer was to set up the Dorset Digital Hotline.
How we did this
We asked our digital champions if they would be confident to help people over the telephone and 12 of them said that they would. We established what type of digital query they would be competent to address so we could ensure callers were matched to the best champion and set up a rota to cover the two hours a day the hotline was open.
The hotline launched on 30 March 2020 and the calls immediately rushed in.
We had people calling in who needed help with their devices and IT equipment, calls from residents frustrated with their broadband speeds and callers who had never been online before and for the first time in their lives really needed to.
The hotline also helped residents who now found themselves working and schooling from home for the first time. We assisted with their Zoom calls and gave advice when their broadband couldn’t cope with these new demands.
Our Digital team, who specialise in broadband for Dorset, joined the Digital Champions so we could answer queries about broadband to any particular property and how to improve broadband speed.
The pandemic showed all of us how critical access to digital was and has motivated people who previously had no interest.
But what if they now felt they needed to be online but couldn’t afford a device or data?
We worked with Good Things Foundation to obtain devices to give to residents. People who were completely offline could call the Hotline to register their interest in receiving a device. The Hotline was also used to arrange remote telephone support from one of our Digital Champions for everyone who received a device, to support them in using it.
What we have learnt
The hotline has evolved – initially it was designed to help with technical queries. The support around broadband and using it as an access point for people without digital access was subsequently added but having one point of contact has been invaluable.
Many people believe they can’t afford digital, and either think it costs a lot more than it does, or several people who have contacted us are paying significantly more that it seems they need to. Being able to give people details of cheaper broadband and details of how to apply for it has been crucial.
Our face to face sessions are now starting to open again, but the hotline has proved so invaluable that we are currently making the business case to retain it post-Covid. This would benefit those with mobility issues, those who live in rural areas with poor transport links and those who, after Covid restrictions are lifted, still do not feel safe to attend a library.