Get online and help prevent loneliness
This month our Team North Yorkshire feature coincides with Get Online week, which aims to help prevent loneliness and isolation by encouraging more people to access the internet.
Organisations such as Citizens Online have recruited and trained a small army of volunteers to help people access the web and reduce digital exclusion.
Between April 1 and June 30 this year, Citizens Online helped at least 3,700 people via their digital support sessions.
Working alongside Reboot North Yorkshire, they also provide a short-term tablet loan scheme to allow people to experience the technology before they purchase their own equipment.
The volunteers make a massive difference in their communities by helping people become more confident using technology.
Support is also available via a network of IT buddies who are happy to help support people in their local libraries.
Community reporter, Louise Perrin, talked to Richard Holmes and Mike Jones who help people access the internet. She also discussed the value of their help with Harrogate resident Muriel Metcalf.
Richard Holmes, does not at first glance have the most conventional background for an IT advisors, he has a PhD in Chemistry!
However, this does mean that he has spent 35 years using computer technology. He said: “I’m comfortable in all aspects of computing, down to the board.”
Richard said that such in depth knowledge isn’t always necessary, and that volunteering is something that is open to everyone.
He said: “People don’t believe in themselves, they say ‘I don’t know what to do.’ But if you can navigate to websites and use Facebook then you can help people.
“There are a whole range of opportunities to get involved. Often people want to know how to navigate to online shopping or paypal or credit card or online banking.
“Most people we help are in the older demographic - they come from a generation that didn’t grow up with computers.
“They’ve been out and bought a device and now they don’t know what to do with it.
“Often, they simply want to learn how it all works. We need to find out what the actual objective is.
“Rather than say ‘Here’s a tablet, off you go. It’s far better if they say “I want to take photos of local wildlife and we can help them with that.”
“During lockdown we used remote access software to share screens and talk people through what they are doing.
“The tablets the charity provides come with Team Viewer installed.”
When someone needs help they simply contact the helpline by dialling 0808 196 5883
and a volunteer will call them back.
“People are assumed to know how to use things, but they do have to know how to ask Google the right questions!
“We say to them: ‘This is the system. This is how it works. Don’t worry, you’re not going to break it!’”
“It’s a fun and rewarding opportunity and it’s great to contribute. If you’d like to get involved, don’t be concerned, you know more than you think you do.”
Muriel Metcalf posted on a local Facebook group asking if anybody could help her with her PC.
Richard saw her appeal and was quick to get in touch. He advised her to contact Citizens Online and then called round to help her.
Muriel said: “He’s a grand lad! It’s an Apple laptop and I wasn’t used to Apple - I was used to Windows.
Muriel had inherited the laptop from her son, who sadly passed away while in the USA. She said: “I got the Apple book, but it’s an absolute maze to learn to do it.
“So I went on the local Knaresborough site - we all contribute when we can in different ways.
“I advertised on there and asked for someone to help me with an Apple computer and Richard replied so I invited him to come down.
“What he gave me at the time wasn’t a lot because Apple was new to me, but I don’t think I absorbed it. And I did say ‘I think I’ll need to see you again!’
“I wanted to use the laptop because I’m secretary of the development on which I live and I use it for correspondence for that and I have my own personal correspondence to deal with.
“It’s much easier with a keyboard and when you’re sitting at a desk. You can think better when you’re sitting in an office situation.
“Richard was a perfect type of gentleman and it was reassuring to go through Citizens Online and the good thing is you’re not charged.”
At the age of 83, Mike Jones of St James’ Meadow is not everyone’s first image of an IT buddy, but visit Boroughbridge library and you’ll find him happily helping people get online.
He said: “In addition to giving advice on IT, I help people fill in digital forms like blue badge, bus passes and shotgun licenses.
“A lot of farmers have no knowledge of IT, and now it’s digital, it’s so complicated.
“People may need advice on how to use their mobile phone or have an issue with IT equipment. Basically, I either give them advice, or signpost them to where they can find help.
“I started volunteering about five years ago because I wanted to use my IT background (Mike worked in Guided Missile in Kinross) to help other people and I get immense satisfaction out of that.
“Occasionally I go out on home visits. I’m quite happy to pop out if someone is incapacitated.
“Some of the people I help are a lot younger than me, occasionally they’re a bit older.
“A lot of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s don’t have a background in technology and they don’t know where they can go to find help.
“I have done a lot of training in the past and I think that helps, you can read how different people feel.
“A lot of people now come and see me because they’ve heard about me through word of mouth - “People say go and see Mike Jones - he’ll help you! And I do”