Sue Wood, Steward of Colchester Methodist Circuit reflects: In our group of Methodist churches in Colchester the Covid19 crisis soon showed us that, for some period ahead, we would be relying to a huge extent on technology for all communications and, following on from that, realising that some are not going to be able to take part in church and social life as fully as they usually do, due to limited use of technology.
A reference at a Citizens Essex rapid listening meeting to a university “Tech Champions” project in Reading made us think that this might be something that could help us. We have the University of Essex in Colchester, also a member of the Citizens Essex alliance, and we’d previously had some contacts with students on another project, which our members had enjoyed, so Juliet, our organiser, brought us together with the volunteer service of the Students Union at the university.
Juliet and the volunteers did some intensive preparation, and on April 23 we had our first Zoom meeting between 8 members of local Methodist churches in Colchester and 11 volunteers from the university. We’ve agreed to start with very basic stuff for those using technology in a very limited way. Our members who joined the meeting came away really enthused and full of admiration for the willingness of the volunteers to design, adapt and deliver assistance to our members. Currently we are focussing on equipping minimum users of technology with basic guides to loading and using Zoom, so they can join in groups, and see their friends as well. This, we anticipate, would alleviate some of the increases in loneliness and isolation felt since lockdown started. The volunteers also have in mind whether a bespoke service to cope with individual problems might be possible, providing all are happy within safeguarding protections.
Kay Hall, Faith and Community Manager at the University of Essex reflects: Staff and students from the University of Essex are sharing their IT skills to help others. Essex Students’ Union’s Volunteering Department, known as VTeam, and the Faith and Community Manager have partnered with Citizens UK and Colchester Methodists to create a network of ‘Tech Champions' to help Colchester citizens get what they need from the online world.
Tomas Kasiulis, Volunteering Manager at Essex Students’ Union, said: “The current situation is asking us all to use technology more, and for some groups in society that presents a particular challenge. Staying in touch with friends and family is really important, but what if that requires software you’ve never used? With so much of our ‘normal’ lives now taking place online, we want to make sure everyone has the skills they need – to chat, to order things they need or to do things like join a Sunday church service.”
On Thursday 23 April the first listening meeting was held to determine what the focus of the Tech Champions should be. From this zoom meeting it was decided that volunteers from the University would be split into groups to focus on areas such as internet access, email usage and how to use zoom.
This is a good example of the relationship building between the University of Essex, Citizens UK and the Methodist Group. I hope we can continue to build on this relationship with regular meetings. We will continue to meet and plan weekly as we need to maintain momentum and complete this ASAP to help people during this unique time.
Tech Champions Update from Sue Wood, Steward of Colchester Methodist Circuit:
Since the launch of the project, volunteers from the Vteam (University of Essex Student Union volunteering section) and a group of Methodists have met weekly to set up the scheme, and to get it started. The first two actions will be to produce easy guides about Zoom, and the second will be to provide opportunity for people to speak by telephone to a tech champion about technical issues.
Already the volunteers have produced a guide to joining Zoom by landline, and a guide to using Zoom securely is on the way, with more in mind. Preparation for phase two is nearly complete.
At one church we started with a short social meeting, where we had 5 novice Zoomers, along with 10 veterans of (at least) 3 weeks’ experience. Not having seen each other for some time, the pleasure and excitement was huge. Then a few days ago we met for a bible study and 25 were there. It helped to show the work being put in is certainly worthwhile in the current situation. There is still a small number of people who don’t feel able to join Zoom, and we continue to consider how to tackle that.