Founders, Alistair Forbes And Peter Jaco (Courtesy Of Alex Hewitt) (1)

Founders of Scottish Tech Army, Alistair Forbes and Peter Jaco (Courtesy of Alex Hewitt)

Charities across Scotland are getting a digital boost during lockdown from a motivated team of hi-tech volunteers in the Scottish Tech Army. Since its launch just over eight weeks ago, this 850-strong team of volunteers has helped over 70 organisations, many of them charities like the Govan Community Project in Glasgow, which works with asylum seekers.

When lockdown was announced, the charity had to move everything online including English classes, a homework club, weekly community groups and its translation service. Traci Kirkland, the project’s Head of Charity, quickly secured funding to buy smartphones and tablets so the people they support could continue to access the charity’s services. But she says, finding a way to manage the loan of multiple devices, was her biggest challenge.

"Many of our community members are extremely vulnerable and experience digital poverty. This means that people didn’t have access to suitable devices, WiFi or 4G data. We needed an automated system that would keep track of the devices we lent to people and pre-install the apps they needed. We didn’t have the skills to do this ourselves."

COVID-19 also meant a reduction in customer demand for the project’s social enterprise, Voiceover Interpreting, an important revenue stream for the Govan charity. Faced with an immediate drop in income, Traci had to quickly find a solution.

She said: "Because of lockdown we weren’t able to offer face-to-face translation, and many of our regular customers paused their service delivery. We decided that by optimising digital marketing to drive more traffic to our website, we could promote this new service more widely, but again lacked the digital expertise in this area. The Scottish Tech Army has helped kickstart the marketing of our online video translation service. This will bring much-needed income into the charity again."

Traci added the quick response from the Scottish Tech Army has made a huge difference to the project: "Everyone we’ve dealt with couldn’t have been more helpful. Charities rarely have money in their budget to access digital support or internet marketing, so it’s been amazing to have this kind of practical help on offer."

The Scottish Tech Army was co-founded by entrepreneurs Alistair Forbes and Peter Jaco in just two weeks after a chance meeting on a daily lockdown walk.

Alistair explained: "As more and more talented and experienced people were put on ice as furlough and redundancy took hold, I could see an urgent need for those skills from the charity and voluntary sector. Peter and I had a clear vision of setting up an organisation that could match the right people to the right project."

After setting up the non-profit company Alistair and Peter sought help from Paul Atkinson of Head Resourcing. Realising that government backing would help give the Scottish Tech Army credibility and access to many opportunities to help, they started working with Civtech and the Scottish Government Digital Directorate. 

Paul commented: "Our mission was to help charities, voluntary organisations, local government, Scottish Government and government-funded agencies tackle the digital challenges caused by COVID-19. The eye-catching brand created by Helen Davies of Porridge Design gave us an identity, a personality around which we could build a community.  

"A small core team of four launched Scottish Tech Army from our respective homes and by the end of the first week, we had already smashed our target for volunteers and projects. I’m enormously proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time and excited about the challenges ahead. As we transition out of lockdown and into a new reality, there is still a huge job to be done but there is strong commitment on the part of everyone at the Scottish Tech Army to continue the work we have started."

Shaun Tate
Article by Shaun Tate
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