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Sunday, 24 May 2015

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Tynedale’s silver surfers are catching the digital wave

EVEN in today’s digitally savvy society one in five people in Northumberland has still never been on line.

Northumberland Community Development Network’s West Northumberland co-ordinator Gordon Stewart helps Jane Heather during a digital inclusion session at Allendale Post Office.

What’s more, the vast majority of them are aged over 60.

But the notion that old people and new technology simply do not mix, doesn’t hold true in Tynedale, where an army of “silver surfers” are signing up in their droves to conquer the worldwide web.

With the help of the Northumberland Community Development Network (NCDN), free digital inclusion sessions are being staged across the district – in Ponteland, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Stocksfield, Prudhoe, Hexham, Riding Mill, Acomb, Allendale and Bellingham – and they’re proving a real hit.

Strictly speaking, the classes are open to all age groups, but it is mainly the older generation that are looking for help and advice in getting on line – particularly those living in more remote areas.

NCDN digital inclusion co-ordinator for West Northumberland, Gordon Stewart, said: “The sparsity of facilities available to people who reside in rural areas presents additional problems and costs.

“But digital skills can help people overcome many of these problems, whether it be banking online or getting their shopping delivered to their door.

“Many local businesses also now provide on line services – the internet has given them a means of attracting new customers and supporting current ones – and consequently older people are finding they need to go on line more and more.”

Among the tutorials rolled out by NCDN are sessions based on the art of sending and receiving emails and how to use the popular social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter.

Another popular workshop looks at how to use the internet to research your family tree, while pensioners, in particular, have been thrilled by the effectiveness of Skype in keeping in touch with family and friends across the globe.

Mr Stewart said: “They all love every second of it and I haven’t found anybody yet who hasn’t enjoyed going on the internet.

“We want to get more and more older people going on line and I have found that they are always very appreciative and willing to learn.

“The sessions work because they’re free and easy to use, with no jargon, and they’re tailored to suit their lifestyles as they help them do what they want to do on line.”

NCDN is currently working to create internet hubs where local people who don’t have a computer or laptop can access community-owned facilities.

Among those villages taking the digital initiative is Allendale, where the post office has secured a £10,000 grant through the Community Enterprise Fund to host weekly drop-in advice sessions.

And the majority of people through its doors have been silver surfers.

At 75 years of age, cost conscious Elsie Robinson wants to use the internet to surf price comparison websites, while also keeping in touch with friends and family via email.

She still has reservations about using the worldwide web, but she’s been amazed at what she’s discovered so far.

She said: “I like to write and talk to people face-to-face because that is what I trust, but the internet gives you another option of doing things in a different way.

“I want to learn how to use it because my grandchildren and even my great grandchildren use it and they said they would help me out.

“It is just unbelievable to think what kind of information you can get a hold of, and I would like to access the things my grandchildren are always talking about.

“There’s still a bit of wariness about using the internet because we learned by using pen and paper, but these sessions are breaking that barrier down.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s a big, scary world on line any more.”

Fellow Allendale resident Pam Mallabar (60) had never used a computer until she attended one of the drop-in sessions a couple of weeks ago.

She has mobility problems, but thanks to the internet is now in regular contact with friends living in other parts of the country.

She said: “Because I’m disabled I don’t get around as much as I used to, but this way I can stay in touch with people who live out of the area.

“And just this week, I went on Streetview to find out some information about an over-60s trip to Seahouses and I was looking for a particular fish and chip shop.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found it on the internet. I’m always amazed at what you can do.”

After a visit from NCDN, Wentworth Grange residential home, in Riding Mill, runs weekly digital sessions for its residents.

Held on a one-to-one basis, they’ve proved both successful and popular, with the residents showing great enthusiasm about learning something completely new.

Managing director Phyllis Lee said: “There’s a group who are very interested and they look forward to the weekly sessions.

“It makes them more knowledgeable about technology and definitely benefits them, helping to keep their minds active.”