Using volunteers to increase digital literacy in the community is a way of building a sense of community, create opportunities for people to feel included in a social group and build meaningful relationships with others.

For this year’s Management Challenge, Hutt City Council’s ‘Kapa Toa’ team has proposed the use of local volunteers in libraries to engage with those in the community who are socially isolated. Social isolation is a huge problem for communities with studies showing that social isolation is highest amongst young adults. Loneliness has been steadily increasing, especially following the lockdown measures implemented for the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Above: Hutt City Council's Kapa Toa team

Connecting communities and enabling learning-empowered communities are important generators of well-being, and part of the purpose of local government. Enhancing digital literacy is a major focus for volunteers and creating connections with isolated community members of different ethnicities, ages, backgrounds and social status will enrich the diversity and social experience of those the project will focus on.

Kapa Toa team member Taitu Lemessa said that the team’s ideas came from being in lockdown. “Social isolation is more prevalent than ever, and our libraries can help.”

“Many people are craving human connection and some people need to get back into the work force after losing jobs. Increasing digital literacy will also help those who are may not have access to a computer or the internet at home with updating their CV and applying for jobs.

“The most interesting insight we gained from the community consultation was the level of interest and willingness that people have to be part of the volunteer network. A desire to “give back to the community” was commonly expressed by everyone we spoke with. There are also students who are eager to volunteer to gain real work experience.”

This year’s Management Challenge teams were required to develop and evaluate ideas for new or improved service delivery through an innovative use of volunteering. After coming up with a suitable idea, each team was then required to consult with their council’s senior leadership team and with their community on the proposal.

After having further discussions with the council’s leadership team, the Kapa Toa team have modified the proposal to be a more manageable pilot by using the existing Home Library Service. The Home Library Service involves selecting reading material and delivering it to those who are in need and not able to visit the library themselves, but most importantly, it’s also an opportunity to spend time and have meaningful conversations with those who are isolated in the community. By adding volunteers to this existing service it will increase the council’s capacity to connect with the community. If the expanded Home Library Service is a success, it will be a model that can then be used by different parts of council.

We look forward to hearing how they get on!