Wigan Council


Legacy and Progression

The Techmates programme was born out of the pandemic when it wasn’t possible to deliver face to face support. Since its inception, the programme plays a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide and empowers individuals and communities. The onset of the pandemic highlighted the urgency for digital literacy, remote connectivity and online engagement. In response we mobilised a dedicated team of volunteers who tirelessly worked to ensure that no one was left behind in the digital realm. As people gained more confidence with being in public spaces and restrictions began to lift, we adapted our offer to provide face to face support, which was designed to tackle digital exclusion, help with social exclusion and recently developed anxieties. The offer was expanded and enhanced. Our face to face offer gained momentum quickly, as confidence with social settings increased.By working closely with our residents and learning from the successes of TechMate support, we knew our learners felt classroom based training and structured training was intimidating and off putting. It was important to deliver informal, person-centred support. The sessions needed to take place in the heart of our communities where volunteers and learners felt most comfortable. We wanted to celebrate learning and bring the community together so that they could support each other and feel comfortable in asking their peers questions and encourage a learning together approach. Sustaining a successful volunteer programme can be difficult and whilst we had enrolled lots of volunteers, retaining them when their circumstances began to change was proving difficult. We therefore revisited our volunteer model to adapt to the changing landscape. The model needed, had to be flexible. We therefore introduced TechMate Tea Parties, trialling them first in our libraries. Whilst telephone was and continues to be effective, it does bring with it barriers and in some situations face to face can be more beneficial to support our more visual learners, who found instructional guidance over the phone difficult. The project’s success lies in its collaborative approach, adopting partnerships with various community groups. Together we have coordinated workshops, training sessions and outreach programmes that have touched the lives of countless individuals, equipping them with essential digital skills needed to navigate the digital landscape. Volunteers have been the backbone of our initiative, generously offering their time and expertise to mentor and guide those unfamiliar with digital technologies. Their commitment has not only addressed immediate challenges but has also sown the seeds for lasting community empowerment. As we on the journey of TechMates, we witness its evolution and expansion over time. We have had to stand up to some real challenges and react with compassion and kindness, and we now need this more than ever. We co-produce by listening to our residents, community groups and volunteers, reflecting on what we have done well and what we need to change. We have the fastest ageing population in the Northwest, 17% of the population are amongst the most deprived 10% nationally. 33% of Wigan residents live in the top 20% most deprived areas nationally. Our legacy is our place-based approach, we are people focussed and have an equal relationship with our communities and create phycological safety to help people reach their potential, and inspire with passion. We’ve seen our Tech Mate Tea parties grow across the borough, away from our library spaces and have regular sessions now taking place in buildings which are in the heart of communities, such as a public house, community centres and sheltered accommodation. As well as individual volunteers, we have formed and grown our Digital Communities Partnership to ensure that we are adopting an asset-based approach to supporting our learners. The partnership is a group of local community organisations, charities and business who offer a variety of courses and learning opportunities across for our residents. The aim of the partnership is to tackle digital inclusion together in the heart of our communities and reach those hard to reach residents who don’t necessarily engage with Council services. Our partnership is built on principles of collaboration, sharing and supporting each other. To support our asset-based approach, we’ve gained stronger relationships with our internal services, so together we are tackling digital inclusion but also providing a more holistic approach and linking up our service offers. For example, we work closely with our Adult Learning and Skills Team and colleagues within our wellbeing service. We are also linked in with corporate campaigns such as Warm Spaces, which provides warm spaces free of charge across the borough over the colder months. Which works well with our now interconnected offer of a tablet lending library and data for those households on low income.


Level of Impact

Our impact is not measured solely in numbers but in the stories of individuals who have found new opportunities, connected with loved ones and accessed essential services through their newfound digital ability. The ripple effect of our efforts extends beyond the initial beneficiaries, influencing families, neighbourhoods and entire communities. We now have an established interconnected inclusion offer, which has grown at pace and is holistic to our users’ circumstances. By linking in with other council and community-based services, we can offer a more holistic and person-centred offer by now tackling digital exclusion, digital poverty, and loneliness. Our community organisations offer wide services, including social engagement sessions, wellbeing support and specialist advice, such as supporting stroke survivors and their families, keeping active and those with sight impairments. TechMates cultivate a sense of community resilience. As more residents become digitally literate, they are better equipped to adapt to evolving technologies, ensuring long-term relevance and competitiveness in the digital landscape. This resilience becomes a key asset for the community, positioning it to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. Partnerships forged with community organisations and local businesses represent another dimension of the lasting impact. TechMates act as bridges between these entities, adopting collaboration that goes beyond immediate needs. Over time these partnerships have contributed to economic development by creating a digitally sustainable programme that attracts people and promotes innovation within the community. The partnership is a collaborative relationship, there’s a great sense of pride and ownership in ensuring that we break down digital equality together. The partnership is very much a two-way relationship, together we:• share learning resources, provide details of funding opportunities, create a forum to connect and collaborate with each other, share successes and best practice, provide training and support in the setting up of digital support sessions. As individuals have become more connected with their community and their doors opened to new opportunities, a sense of belonging and shared progress has emerged. Digital literacy has become a collective achievement, knitting together diverse residents and partners in a collaborative pursuit of common goals. TechMates is well known across Greater Manchester with other local authorities contacting us to learn more about our offer and best practices. The team have worked internally with our sheltered accommodation schemes, undertaking questionnaires to understand the digital complexities residents are facing, this includes, using smart phones, accessing essential online services and staying connected. Social interaction is vital within these settings and our programme has guided residents to become a digital community within their communal setting. We have recruited and supported residents to become digital champions which has promoted independence and contributed to a more connected community. The programme has also helped residents evolve their skills which will allow them to save money and they can do so in a safe and trusted environment. We recognise the value and greatly appreciate the support of our volunteers, so a great deal of investment in our volunteers has taken place over the last couple of years to ensure the programme continues to be successful and grow: We celebrate and share successes, creating a network of volunteers which is collaborative and is an environment where they feel valued.

Offer bespoke training to ensure that they feel comfortable in providing digital support. Fund an AQA level 3 qualification. Provide opportunities to develop workplace skills and enhance CVs. Some of our volunteers have gained employment as a direct result of the volunteering opportunities. Its ability to create sustainable, positive change is a testament to the dedication of our TechMate volunteers and community partners and the transformative power of digital inclusion in shaping a resilient, digitally empowered community. The programme is highly profiled across our borough and has gained popularity due to it’s success and outcomes. Our volunteer network continues to grow, and our residents want to be a part of the success. The team have created a sustainable, high-quality programme which provides life changing experiences. As a direct result of the programme, the quality of life of our residents have been improved. Learners are no longer excluded due to digital experience or financial circumstances.


Additional Evidence or Information

As of 8 December 2023, we have broadened our demographical reach and now have 9 established TechMate Tea Parties across the borough. 7 out of 9 of the parties are ran by our TechMate volunteers. In the same period, just 12 months part, we’ve had a 163% in learners receiving support and a 688% increase in recorded volunteer hours. We have a greater number of volunteers supporting sessions and seen a 95% increase in hours of support available, which has ultimately had a positive impact on the quality of the sessions and the time which learners receive. In April – December 2022 learners who received support was 260, between April – December 2023 this was 684 meaning a 163% Increase. Volunteer hours recorded for April – Dec 2022 was 49.5 and April – Dec 2023 was 390 meaning a 688% increase. Hours of available volunteer support at sessions between April – Dec 2022 was 101 and April – Dec 2023 was 197 meaning 95%. Our Digital Community Partnership currently has 29 active partners. Members of our Digital Community Partnership have been trained and supported in setting up their digital support sessions, enhancing their current support offer to include the tackling of digital exclusion. The Council’s tablet lending library helps local organisations and professionals connect digitally excluded adults to a free tablet device with data. We also offer our Digital Community Partnership members the opportunity to loan devices to support digital inclusion projects. Since January 2022, we’ve issued 96 devices to our Digital Community Partners and since December 2021, a further 111 individuals have benefited from personal loans.

With the support of our Volunteers and Digital Community Partners, we were able to provide a highly successful programme of events for GM’s Digitober. During the month-long festival we hosted additional pop up TechMate Tea Parties, a Digital Murder Mystery event for 16 attendees focusing on security and held a Tech Time to Get Digital event which received over 400+ attendees. Since April 2022, 26 adults have been referred to our Adult Learning Team for courses such as English, Maths, Digital and Business Administration.

By working with sheltered accommodation schemes, 2 residents receive one to one support and from July 2023 50 residents have received support through a bespoke tea party. 7 of our TechMate volunteers have completed their AQA qualification. In the last 12 months, 3 of our volunteers have gained long term employment, which they attribute to the skills and experience gained through their time volunteering with us. The qualitative impact of programme has been outstanding on both the learner and volunteer.

Testimonials from our Techmates: Sarah relishes in the sense of satisfaction in supporting learners: “It’s very satisfying and it’s very good for me as well because I want to share what I’ve got in there at the minute – and then hopefully people will help me when I need it!”. She goes on to talk about the importance of the support she is providing “Internet safety is the biggest thing for me; I like knowing that people are safe online. There’s a lot of bad things out there and people who are vulnerable or new to the digital age need help to be safe.”

Another one of our volunteers, Tiffany, also talks about the satisfaction it brings her and how she finds it so rewarding as her learners develop “I think it is satisfying, I love solving a problem and the lady that I speak with the most is so grateful that I help her out and she does an excited squeal when we do something like proposing an email or installing a new app. I think the most rewarding thing is just to sit and make a difference and it only takes me a day a week to help and its completely changed her life”. It’s also helped our volunteers develop their own skills, one of our volunteers Ben started volunteering with us while he was still in school and he tells us that ‘TechMates really helped me with my college application and Duke of Edinburgh award, because it is unique, requires dedication and shows a good understanding of communication and IT skills’, the programme has allowed him to develop ‘better communication skills and more confidence’. Testimonials from our learners: Mother and son duo Evelyn and Clive are regulars at a fortnightly TechMate Tea party. Evelyn gushes to say she’s ‘gone from strength to strength with it all and I am so grateful to the Council for the service. I now have a smartphone and know how to use WhatsApp, which means I can save money on a data contract as I have WIFI. I’d never have known how to do this before the TechMates!”. Whilst Clive adds ‘“We’ve been coming for about 12 months and we just love to join the group every single session. I’ve used the website LearnMyWay and with TechMate support learned so much, so I am thankful to the team for that!”