Digital inclusion – do YOU know anyone that doesn’t use the Internet?

Those who know me or have seen my posts on this site, Facebook and Twitter will probably have realised that I am a great fan of computer technology and am an avid user of the Internet. My interest partly stems from almost 40 years in the IT industry but, some might say, also comes from a ‘techie-geeky’ interest in computers and their uses.

Computers can be annoying and frustrating at times but they can also bring huge benefits. Almost three years ago I decided to take a sabbatical from IT Management and used some of my new found free time to become a volunteer at Sutton Central Library helping to deliver their weekly ‘It’s never too late to learn’ classes. These sessions aim to get Sutton residents over 50 who have never used a computer onto the digital superhighway. This activity increased my awareness of the benefits the Internet can bring to people, especially those living alone or with physical limitations. The ability to communicate via email and video and shop online can make a huge difference to the quality of some people’s lives. The title of the libraries’ courses is also accurate as I haven’t yet found someone who is too old to get on the Internet. To prove the point, we recently had a student who was 92!

During this time I have also worked with Age UK Sutton facilitating IT sessions for their target age group and have made contact with other groups in the borough who provide IT sessions. They are all doing a great job but I have felt there is a need to work together and pool our resources if we are to see a significant increase in the percentage of computer and Internet users in the London Borough of Sutton.

This week a couple of opportunities presented themselves which enabled me to get a broader view of training opportunities in the borough. First, I was able to spend an afternoon at Sutton Council’s ‘Let’s get digital’ event in Sutton Civic Centre helping Sutton Libraries to increase awareness of their digital offerings which include the sessions already mentioned plus downloadable digital books, magazines and audio books. The event was attended by other providers of free and low cost IT sessions including Age UK Sutton, SCOLA, SCILL and Barclays Bank. For me this also presented an excellent chance to meet representatives of these organisations, establish contacts and discuss ways to collaborate.

By coincidence I also became aware of Sutton Council’s Digital Inclusion project and was kindly offered the chance to discuss the project with key council officers. The project has a broad scope which includes council systems, public web sites and the staff intranet, but the part that caught my attention was the one which aims to improve levels of digital inclusivity of residents in the borough. I was given a thorough overview of the project’s achievements so far, it’s current activity and its future aims. The resident inclusivity part of the project is still being developed, but the meeting provided a useful opportunity to understand their aims and feed in my views and experiences.

My activity so far has been with over-50 groups but I realise there are also younger people who have slipped through the digital net and need some help and encouragement to reap the benefits of computers and the internet.

Now to the title of this post! One of the big issues encountered by groups trying to find people who would benefit from using the Internet is how do you find them? It is relatively easy to engage Internet users via email, Facebook, Twitter etc but, by definition, the target audience doesn’t use them! So, if YOU know anyone who is not an Internet user, or know of organisations in the borough whose membership might contain the target audience PLEASE get them to contact the organisations mentioned above – it really is never too late to learn and it can make a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives.