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Paddy McDonald

Digital Champion


Paddy started volunteering with Starting Point after noticing a sign in the coffee shop window and has been a volunteer with them for the last 6 years. Through volunteering he’s found a new passion for teaching and a community of co-workers and students that have transformed his ‘retirement’.

“I just love working with the clients in the coffee shop and Starting Point’s different groups around Stockport. Nothing beats going there and teaching somebody something and then watching them confidently use that. You get a kick out of teaching them and they get a kick out of learning. It works both ways. You feel so good at the end of it when someone’s learnt something. And they come back. Next week’s lesson might be to learn how to use a credit card and they don’t even want a credit card, but they’ll come for the lesson because they don’t want to miss anything!”

Man sat at a desk working on his laptop

Paddy McDonald

You get a kick out of teaching them and they get a kick out of learning. It works both ways. You feel so good at the end of it when someone’s learnt something. Everybody can learn can’t they? It’s just a matter of getting the right help.

“I get loads of people saying ‘I’m too thick to do that’– their words not mine - or ‘I’m too old – I can’t do it’, ‘I’m 85, I can’t learn at my age’. 5 weeks later they’re online, they’re Skyping people, they’re doing all sorts of things. I do this for moments like that, without a doubt.”

Paddy puts into practice Starting Point’s principle of giving others the confidence and tools to do things for themselves. He describes how the volunteer digital champions help each other.

“One of the other volunteers I work with started around the same time to me, but with a totally different background. When she first came, she couldn’t read and write yet now she’s an ideal teacher for the total beginners because she really understands and has a hands-on approach.

I teach her IT things behind the scenes to make sure she’s ahead of the game and we use each other as guinea pigs to practice stuff. Everybody there is a volunteer – they’ve all got their own strengths and weaknesses. I’m dyslexic so in the past when I needed to use a whiteboard, I would always say ‘Right, can you be my scribe please’. As the years have passed my confidence has increased and now I just tell people straight away I’m dyslexic and they get used to it.”

During the Covid-19 lockdown, all regular face to face contact was stopped, but Paddy, along with the other Digital Champions received online training in how to teach using video calling software. The initial online classes replicated those groups that existed prior to the lockdown, offering people an online class at a similar time and day to their previous classes. After listening to their learners, Starting Point changed to themed sessions around topics open to learners and digital champions from across all the Stockport groups.

As well as helping on the group video chats, Paddy has been buddied up with 4 individual learners who he connects to regularly. All are clients he knew from the old face to face classes, which has made it easier for him to support them. “When someone new joins a class they’ll click with one or the other champions. It makes it easier if the person you’re talking to likes you, so we let them pick us to support them.”

Paddy is confident that online learning and communication works, and that everyone can be helped to get better at it. He finds himself wanting to advise wherever he sees that improvements can be made.

“The other day I was on a Zoom call for the church with about 60 people. I wasn’t teaching, but in my head I could see where people needed to adjust their camera or turn their volume up, or where they needed headphones. Most people need a little lesson in how to use the technology – just a little lesson can help make life easier. It’s just a matter of time, I think. It’s a new thing for everybody. You see PM’s Question Time and half the people, really really experienced people, who work in IT and all sorts, can’t turn the audio off! So, you see – everybody’s got something to learn!”

Paddy is now working with Stockport Advocacy to train staff on using Zoom for their meetings, including sharing Powerpoints presentations and other features. The next step will hopefully be to train their disabled clients to use Zoom. As the parent of a disabled child himself, he understands both the role of the advocates and the additional difficulties disabled learners face.

“I’ve a son who’s got a disability. He does some video calls, Facebook type things, just fine, but when I teach him how to do a Zoom conference call, there are too many options on the page, and he tends to mess up the call by fiddling about with it. Other people would probably be in the same boat. But everybody can learn can’t they? It’s just a matter of getting the right help.”