This week is Get Online Week, and DigiKnow partners are running various sessions and events for people across Stockport to help them learn to do things online. In this blog, Claire Worthington, who runs Village Web Company and is a member of the DigiKnow Alliance, talks about the value of having digital skills and the unfairness of digital exclusion.
During October, organisations across Stockport will be running events to help people do things online. The internet has the power to improve people’s lives. It lets small business owners sell their products 24 hours a day; allows us to connect instantly with friends and family all over the world; and lets us access information, public services, and entertainment without having to leave the house. Unfortunately, not everybody in Stockport is able to make the most of the internet, and that’s a problem.
With every new tech advancement, there are people left behind. For every service that becomes “digital by default”, there are a large number of residents who become increasingly excluded, both digitally and socially. The devices, data, skills and confidence required to just go online or just download the app are not universal.
I love the internet, but it excludes people. Lots of things have to be done online, but lots of people don’t know how to use the internet safely. Lots of people don’t have a computer. There are also lots of people who have laptops or smartphones but can’t afford broadband at home.
Digital skills and internet access are now part of everyday life, so since 2016, I’ve been part of the DigiKnow Alliance and have been helping people get online by offering free-to-attend activities that help them develop the necessary skills and confidence to tackle digital tasks.
As a web developer, I spend most of my time doing things on a computer. If I’m awake, I’m probably on the internet, but I haven’t always been “a techie” I have watched the world change and been lucky enough to have digital gradually become part of my life, initially at school and later at work.
I grew up with my music on vinyl and cassettes instead of streaming platforms, and my school classrooms had huge blackboards, not digital whiteboard screens. I had my childhood before teenagers had access to mobile phones and on-demand TV channels. I used computers at high school, but I didn’t have one at home or any interest in getting one. The internet had been invented, but it definitely wasn’t part of my life.
When I was a young personnel administrator, all the company HR records were in paper files, stored in huge filing cabinets. Coming back from maternity leave and finding that the filing cabinets had been removed and there was a huge computer on everybody’s desk didn’t faze me because I had the advantage of having used computers in the past. My boss showed me how to do my job on the new IT system, and I got on with it. From that point on, every time the system changed, somebody delivered face-to-face training to make sure that everyone knew what to do.
I’m based in Romiley, Stockport, and our village has a large number of older residents, who are one of the groups most likely to be digitally excluded. People over the age of 70 are unlikely to have learned about computers at school and may never have used them at work. When I first moved to the village, we had five different banks, now we don’t have any, and as a result, local residents are expected to master a new set of skills in order to manage their financial affairs.
Banking and public services have been gradually moving online for a number of years, but there was a time when people had a choice of how to access them. I first started using online banking in the nineties, I also started paying my car tax online instead of spending my lunch hour in a queue at the post office, but I still had the option of doing things in person if I wanted to. The problem with services only being available online is that people no longer get a choice. The internet is a huge part of everyday life, and that change is leaving lots of people behind.
The internet can be a great place to find information and connect with communities. In addition to Digitober, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Black History Month, ADHD Awareness Month and includes Baby Loss Awareness Week. Lots of useful information is being shared online, but not everybody in Stockport is able to access it, which is one more reason why organisations like mine are working together, to help people confidently and safely access the internet.
My shop is a place where those who are struggling with digital can come for help from a friendly face who can translate the tech speak and guide them through digital tasks. I’m also registered as a Data Bank, which means that I’m able to provide those on a low income with a pre-paid SIM card to help them access the internet.
Organisations like mine are using October as a time to focus on digital inclusion and showcase the work we do, but we’re still available to help people access the internet throughout the year. We’ll be louder than usual during Get Online Week, but we’re here all year round. If you or someone you know needs help to access the internet, there will be someone who can help.
Village Web Company CIC is a social enterprise based in Romiley which builds websites, runs training courses and hosts activities that develop digital skills and confidence. You can contact me by email or on Twitter/X.
DigiKnow support is available across Stockport. If you know someone who would like to get online, but doesn’t know how to get started, call the DigiKnow Helpline on 07724 217888 or visit the DigiKnow web pages.
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