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Why and how a trade union activist is trying to help older people get online

Jenny Sims is a Cardiff-based freelance journalist, Co-Chair of the NUJ’s 60+ Council, and a National Executive member of the National Pensioners Convention which represents more than 1,000 affiliate organisations – including NPC Wales, and one million members. She was instrumental in getting it to set up a new Digital Inclusion working party to help more people get online. It will meet for the first time on September 3.

Once upon a time I got a job as a trainee journalist on a weekly newspaper and an ancient office typewriter which clattered when you hit the keys and zinged when you returned the carriage.

Today I have a laptop, iPad and iPhone – which plays a tune when I get a call and pings when I get a message. In the transition period I progressed through portable manual typewriters and heavy electric ones, to computers and keyboards when the magazine I worked for entered the digital age. Change was forced upon me, luckily, and I’ve been updating my digital skills to keep up with change ever since.

But many older people have not been so lucky, have never used a computer or smart phone, and find themselves disadvantaged, disengaged and disenfranchised, and often fear change. Thus, though many schemes are available to help them to learn and to have use of computers, some people just don’t want to know.

Numerous reports show that digital literacy can help lift people out of poverty and alleviate loneliness and isolation – issues which the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) 60+ Council and the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) campaign for.

As I believe digital literacy is key to tackling these issues, after being elected to the NPC’s National Executive, I succeeded at its Biennial Delegates Conference earlier this year in getting them to agree to set up a new Digital Inclusion working party, specifically to help get more people online.

However, another motion calling for the NPC to campaign to safeguard those older people who were not and would never be online was also approved. As a result, the working party which has been set up will tackle both and has been named the Digital Inclusion/Exclusion working party.

But it won’t be easy. Derek Walker, Chief Executive, Wales Co-operative Centre, who spoke at a session on Digital Inclusion at the NPC’s annual Pensioners’ Parliament in Blackpool, in June, was ‘surprised about the anger and fear regarding the pressure people felt to get online’.

Key aims of the working party will be to help people overcome that fear and hostility, publicise the work of Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being – a Welsh Government digital inclusion project, which is delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre – and others through its 1,000 affiliate organisations, unions and older people’s forums, and encourage those with no digital skills to sign up. We hope to make a difference. Watch this space!