An appeal for volunteers to train to become volunteer Digital Champions has been launched by Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington.
The roles will help those struggling with technology to get online and perform life-enhancing tasks such as shopping or booking doctors’ appointments.
The charity is seeking volunteers to fill the roles that come with free training and ongoing support from a dedicated project coordinator.
‘Digital Champions’ come from a range of different backgrounds and have varying levels of digital experience themselves, from IT professionals to people who are ‘newly converted’ to digital technology and want to share their enthusiasm.
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They may be employees at local businesses or local community organisations, or other older people themselves.
The charity’s first volunteer to sign up is 75-year-old Stuart Van Praag, a former IT trainer at a leading telecoms company, who is passionate about the importance of helping people to get digital skills.
Stuart said: “A lot of older people have technophobia and have no real ability with computers; and so, sadly, they feel increasingly left out.
“My late wife was like that and I gradually got her to use a smartphone, but I did most other things on the computer.
“I can only imagine how digitally excluded she’d feel if she’d lived alone.
“Many people especially older married couples are like that where one takes a lead with computers and the Internet and the other struggles with it all and needs a bit of help.
“What people need to remember is that it’s never too late to learn something new.
“Digital skills are increasingly becoming something of a necessity rather than a leisure skill. It’s so useful to just go online to order medication, do banking or do your weekly shop, especially if like me, you have mobility issues. The Digital Champions campaign is brilliant and I’m so pleased to be involved in it.”
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An influential report by Age UK in 2021 found that over-75s are the age group least likely to use the internet and the study found that only 15 per cent of the nearly two million offline in this age group have an interest in getting online at all.
Of all those who said they would like to use the internet more frequently or for more tasks, including those who are already online, a lack of IT skills was perceived to be the biggest barrier, with four-fifths (79 per cent) of over-75s citing this as a key factor.
Helen Hunter, Chief Executive of Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington said: “We are delighted to have the resources available to train volunteers to become Digital Champions.
“Sadly, at a time when we are as a society becoming more technologically driven, many older people are digitally excluded. They worry about the cost, may have resistance to change, or think they are too old to learn something new.
“Peer support is a proven way to support digital inclusion and there is clear evidence that Digital Champion support is effective in building learners’ confidence and digital skills.”
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Mrs Hunter added: “The role will be tremendously fulfilling, knowing that they are making a real difference to literally transforming the lives of people in the community.
“Digital Champions might get involved in delivering awareness-raising activities to inspire and motivate older people to get online. These activities might involve a conversation about digital technology with an older person who’s using one of Age UK’s services, sharing leaflets and information, or hosting video calls about the benefits of digital technology.
“Volunteers could also deliver support sessions to older people in the community, either remotely or face-to-face, to help older people improve their confidence and skills.”
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Once the Digital Champion volunteer has completed their Digital Champion training, they are matched with an older person in the area who needs help getting online.
The charity aims to match people as best they can with someone who has similar interests, where they feel comfortable supporting them and can provide support in a way that suits them.
Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington can also loan qualifying people a variety of IT equipment to get started.
If you would like to get involved, Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington would love to hear from you. Please contact 01325 362832 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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