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Digital Success and Inter-generational Buzz

April 4, 2014

It’s great when local excellence and innovation is acknowledged. That’s why I was really pleased to be at yesterday’s ‘I made a difference’ awards and see Northumbria University Student Union volunteers scoop top prize in the Innovative Partnership category. The awards – this year judged by an inspirational panel of Martha Lane Fox, Lauren Laverne, Chi Onwurah MP and Steph McGovern – are the region’s principal way of recognising those who have gone that extra mile to get the North East digitally connected – enjoying opportunities for digital pleasure and inclusion. Student volunteers perfectly compliment the council’s own Go Digital initiative.

As the Council’s Digital Champion and Portfolio Holder for Age-Friendly City I was particularly pleased to see recognition of the inter-generation buzz at these classes. It’s so easy to think that just providing ‘kit and wires’ is the answer to getting us all online, but student volunteers provide a model for us all of powerful community action. Yes, they’re about people learning and keeping up to speed with technology, but they’re also a real opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to share a laugh and learn from each other’s life experiences. The city is richer for that.

Northumbria Students ‘The IT Classes’ help older people who may not feel comfortable online or buying a computer to gain confidence and improve their skills. Classes are run every week during term-time and rely on a team of dedicated student volunteers to develop a one-to-one and bespoke service that people can drop in and out of that suits their need. Classes have been running for two academic years now and class members have steadily risen to 28 people – the oldest a man in his late 80s. Different people attend each week as word gets passed on and people have had their questions answered, moving on as and when they feel happy.

The partnership between students in Newcastle and the Elders’ Council has been amazing. From the inception of the project, the Elders’ Council has seen its potential and encouraged members to attend. The initiative is on a roll and I would hope other communities and groups are also encouraged to come together to provide that practical network of support that will help the city reach its strategic ambition of being one of the most IT connected in the UK.

The project has helped many people with basic IT skills, helping them get online, setting up e:mail, getting to grips with social media and keeping in touch with friends and family across the world to improve computer literate skills.

I add my congratulations to the student volunteers and to all those involved at Newcastle Elders’ Council and thank too all others in the city, including those involved in Go Digital for all they are doing.

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