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Collaboration is still the key to helping older people to get online in Wales

As a partner of Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, the Good Things Foundation has been showcasing some digital inclusion successes around the country.

By Jenny Sims

Up at the crack of dawn to catch a train from Cardiff to London for a recent conference titled, Digital Evolution: Happier, Healthier, Better off, the first two strangers I got chatting to at a buffet lunch were – from Cardiff!

Serendipity or what? One worked for the Welsh Government, the other for The Big Issue. Chances are I wouldn’t have met either on home turf. But thanks to the Good Things Foundation (GTF), I did.

Networking is a key attraction of GTF’s annual conferences at the BT Centre, London. This ninth year brought together more than 100 delegates from governments, the private, public and voluntary sectors, and other organisations from around the UK.

One of the ‘newbies,’ I went mainly to get ideas for the National Pensioner Convention’s campaign to help get more of its one million members online and bridge the digital divide.

Many exciting initiatives are happening around the country. But though much support is available, the National Survey for Wales says 11% of people remain digitally excluded, and 51% of people aged 75+ don’t use the internet.

Among the barriers is lack of motivation. Some say it’s not for them because they just can’t see how it would be relevant to their lives. This is sometimes an excuse for those who don’t wish to admit they lack confidence, or think they can’t afford either the IT device or WiFi access. So, how to engage this challenging group?

Pete Nuckley, GTF’s Senior Service Designer’s simple advice is to stop using the word ‘digital.’ It can frighten and confuse people. Get them in the door first, whether that’s a community hub, a library, café or something else. Make them feel at ease, comfortable about speaking with you before trying to find out what it is they need help with. Then show them how to do it onscreen, whether phone, tablet, computer or TV.

This has been the approach of the Wales Co-operative Centre since it began running digital inclusion initiatives over a decade ago, with Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being (DCW) the latest Welsh Government project that it’s delivering. It’s an approach that is successful in tackling social isolation and loneliness This was borne out by trainer Paul Davies who, with his wife Sue, runs Destinations@Saltburn, a community and online resource centre in Teeside.

Many inspiring digital inclusion success stories were shared throughout the day, including innovative city-wide projects such as the Leeds Libraries’ tablet lending scheme – the largest in the UK. (DCW recently launched a similar scheme in the Vale of Glamorgan with the support of the local authority and other partners, lending iPads to its members in the same ways lending books).

Jason Tutin, currently leading the city’s “100% Digital Leeds” digital inclusion programme explained that they started small. They loaned tablets and provided training to people without digital skills and/or couldn’t afford one. As people grew in confidence, some handed them back and bought their own. Proven outcomes attracted more funding.

Examples were given of people in their eighties and nineties, having been trained to go online became voluntary trainers themselves. Again, this is something Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being (DCW) has experienced with its Digital Champions.

DCW is working to scale up these successes, as is GTF – which is helping communities nationally and internationally. Helen Milner OBE, the Foundation’s Chief Executive, says: “To tackle this we all need to work together, the public, private and voluntary sectors.”

Peter Estin, Chair of – a digital skills coalition which launched on 10th October, is aiming to ‘empower the UK to thrive in a digital age’, says it means building coalitions which are not London-centric and canvassing governments to have joined-up digital inclusion policies. GTF and DCW are partners.

Jenny Sims is a freelance journalist based in Cardiff. She is also chair of the National Pensioners Convention’s Digital Inclusion/Exclusion Working Party and co-chair of the NUJ’s 60+ Council. Follow her on Twitter: @Jenny__Sims