Clarion Futures have been running Digital Champion programmes since 2012. How have they kept it going and what have they learnt over the years? 

In 2012 in Basingstoke, Hampshire, a group of Digital Unite tutors were helping residents in a sheltered housing scheme to use computers and the internet. Some of the residents were so enthused and keen to learn more that they were trained on how to help others with digital skills. And they started to run teaching sessions themselves. This resident-to-resident approach proved so successful that it started up in other schemes around the country.

And so Clarion Futures’ Digital Champions Network was born. Now, more tha 10 years on, it is one of the most established and long-standing Digital Champion initiatives in housing. So far, their volunteer Digital Champions have held over 5,400 digital skills teaching sessions for learners, and with a current network of 130 active Digital Champions, their Network is stronger than ever.

We’ve worked alongside Clarion Futures, the charitable foundation of Clarion Housing Group, since those days in Basingstoke right up to today, developing Digital Champion training and providing recruitment, placement and mentor support. The courses and e-learning site we originally devised for their residents became the inspiration behind our award-winning Digital Champions Network, now used by hundreds of organisations and their Champions.

Clarion Digital Champions helping people at the Spire Cafe
Clarion Digital Champions helping learners at the Spire Cafe, Burgess Hill.

The success stories at Clarion are aplenty. From Digital Champion Pete, who used his volunteering role and the skills he learnt to get back into work, to the husband-and-wife team who set up a computer support session at their local cafe. They grew a small team of fellow Champions who are regularly helping hundreds of local learners. Or Nathalie, a mum in Croydon, using the IT suite at her daughter’s school to help other parents improve their digital skills. And Bernadette, running remote sessions for her local U3A group, helping older people with smartphones, tablets and wi-fi connection, all via Zoom.

We are hugely proud of Clarion’s Digital Champions and to have been a part of their journey for all these years.

So, when other Digital Champion programmes have come and gone, just how has Clarion maintained a decade’s worth of momentum and success?  Here’s what’s worked a treat, and what hasn’t:

Consistent senior management support

Gaining management buy-in for a Digital Champion programme is a critical factor for its success. Senior leaders have the power to draw in staff and other stakeholders who can help deliver, manage and promote a Digital Champion initiative.  Without it, there is no leverage if there are difficulties or if other resources or support are needed.

Clarion’s senior management has been unfailing in their belief in the power of people. They recognised early on that digital inclusion needed a sustainable solution and that finding a way to manage and motivate volunteers would help their communities develop a lasting use of the internet. They’ve pursued new opportunities including One Digital, a UK-wide Lottery funded digital skills programme, that saw them provide grants and guidance to other housing providers wanting a Digital Champion model.

A dedicated digital inclusion team

Clarion Futures has always had a designated Digital Inclusion Officer to co-ordinate and manage their Champion programme. Now the team has expanded to include 4 Digital Inclusion Officers who are responsible for particular regions across the country as well as a dedicated Digital Skills Team. This drives forward their Digital Champion activities across the organisation and ensures, that wherever they are, their residents get access to the digital inclusion opportunities they need.

Strong local partnerships help put the Champions to good use

Clarion has a strong network of local partners who they support through grants and training. Digital Champions are recruited to specific digital skills sessions run by these community partners so their enthusiasm and skills are put to good use straightaway. These placements vary from Job Clubs to community centres and sheltered housing schemes and everything in between.

A quality recruitment process

The way Digital Champions are enlisted to Clarion’s Network has been continually refined and improved over the years. We recruit Champions at a local level via volunteer centres, libraries, community organisations and national websites like do-it and CharityJobs.  And then hand-hold them through a comprehensive induction process that includes interviews, DBS checks and tailored learning pathways. This rigorous approach has helped to minimise turnover and ensures that time is well spent on those volunteers who are committed to a Digital Champion role.

A whole lot of training support

Clarion’s Digital Champions have access to over 650 resources and 24 courses via our Digital Champions Network, to build their skills, knowledge and confidence. This is also supported by monthly learning workshops, forums and discussion groups. And is complemented with detailed monthly reporting on the recruitment and learning activity, gathering regular feedback from Champions and their placements and identifying training needs for the future.

A model that can move with the times

There’s nothing like a pandemic to test the resilience of any business programme or workstream. And Clarion’s Digital Champion programme was no different. Whilst face-to-face sessions were halted, we kept Clarion’s Digital Champions connected throughout with coffee mornings, webinars, newsletters, lots of fun stuff and just good ol’ conversation. Now, as doors re-open, the Digital Champions are there, ready to get going again.

And what hasn’t worked?

Not everything is plain sailing and we’ve learnt a lot over the past 10 years. A key challenge has been maintaining a consistent Digital Champion base. Volunteer recruitment is hard. People are often cautious about the commitment they’re taking on and life inevitably gets in the way - it’s much easier to leave a volunteer role, than a paid one. Often, people want shorter, one-off volunteer experiences rather than a regular role. Over time we’ve found that being very clear about the expectations of a Digital Champion and developing and providing a strong support system around them can help mitigate some of these issues, such as the recent introduction of 10 session placements which meet the interests of the Digital Champion.

And the one golden thing that Clarion Futures has learnt about digital championing from the past 10 years?

Steph Noyce, Head of Money and Digital at Clarion Futures, said:

“Establishing a strong partnership with a trusted delivery partner like Digital Unite, who is willing to go that extra mile to help meet our high quality standards and meet the needs of our highly valued volunteers, has been a key factor in creating our successful Digital Champion programme.

“Continued investment by Clarion has enabled us to improve the volunteer experience by:

  • Building good working relationships with each new Digital Champion through inductions and training with their regional Digital Inclusion Officer which include DBS checks and a comprehensive induction pack.
  • Providing 10 session placement experiences within a chosen pathway.

“Many of our Digital Champion volunteers have gone on to find work and further training opportunities as a result of this transformative programme.”

Thinking of creating Digital Champion support like Clarion Futures?

Then get in touch with us today and we'll tell you more about how our Network can give your digital skills programme longevity.

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