Getting the county online

Joan Robinson from Warkworth.

Joan Robinson from Warkworth.

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Joan Robinson sent her first email in her 60s, having never used a computer before in her life.

Now, at 76, she is webmaster for her village’s internet site – and this summer she is helping other older people get online as part of the county’s Older People’s Digital Inclusion project.

Run by the Northumberland Community Development Network (NCDN), the project is hosting a range of workshops aimed at bringing technology to people who might struggle to learn how it works.

The latest was held at Amble library yesterday, and more are planned in rural locations such as Belford later in the year.

The NCDN’s Julia Lyford said that computer skills can make a huge difference to people’s lives – especially now that businesses and government agencies offer discounts for paying online.

She said: “There are things they are going to miss, particularly financially – plus the community side which is what our project is focusing on. If someone finds it difficult to get out, they’ve at least got a chance to be part of the community.”

It is hoped that there will eventually be 15 support groups across the county.

Volunteer ‘digital champions’ will help people brush up on their computer skills, either one-to-one or in group sessions.

Joan, who runs the community site for Warkworth, where she lives, is one of the volunteers, and received help from the NCDN when she was getting to grips with web design several years ago.

She said: “When I retired my husband bought me a computer, and I didn’t really know much about going online and using the computer – all I could do was use the word processor.

“I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t have a computer now. I just recommend it to everyone I meet.

“It’s surprising how many people are scared of it or think they haven’t got the time.”

“It does make a big difference. It ocupies your mind, it gives you interest in all sorts of things.”

NCDN staff hope the project will eventually become a social enterprise, with an online forum where people can ask for computer help, and offer support.