The fight to get half a million people in the North East who can't use the internet online starts today.
Sending emails, using a search engine and browsing the web are among the basic functions that many of us have still not got to grips with.
New project Go ON UK led by digital expert Baroness Martha Lane Fox, the founder of website lastminute.com, aims to get 125,000 more people online in six months.
Addressing a meeting of 200 business and civic leaders in Gateshead at the campaign’s official launch, Baroness Lane Fox said her target is ambitious but possible with the support of local councils.
“Nationally 7m people have never been on the internet. Even among 15 to 24 year olds there’s a staggering number of people who have never used technology,” said Baroness Fox, who is the UK’s youngest female peer. “Here in the North East there’s 500,000 people who don’t have these basic skills and we are going to try and reach out to 125,000 of them.
“I really believe that at a time when the economic situation is far from certain for many people in the country, and as you get further and further away from London, you feel more profoundly the internet is one of the few tools we can offer.
“I hope that we can create a much more connected UK.”
The North East is the third worst affected region in the UK for digital competence, following Anglia where 900,000 adults struggle on the net and Scotland where a further 1.4 million people, nearly a third of the adult population, can’t email or fill in online forms.
Go ON UK’s roll out in the region today follows a successful scheme in Liverpool where the number of people offline in the city reduced by 55% in just 18 months.
Councils in the North East have also given the project their backing with 12 local authorities signing a digital charter to try and improve access through libraries and community hubs.
Councillor Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: “Broadband is a 21st century utility and like the Victorian industrialist Joseph Chamberlain who was concerned with sanitation, broadband becomes a necessity we must make sure people have.
“If we don’t, there will be a class of people who are left out and become more and more adrift.”
Over the next month The Journal alongside partners Lloyds Bank, Argos, Talk Talk, EE and the Post Office will be trying to get more businesses, charities and individuals online for the first time. For internet support call 0800771234 or visit your local Post Office. Businesses; can visit www.digitalskills.com/sell .
Bid to boost online skills
Nearly a quarter of people in the North East have poor online skills, according to charity Go ON UK which has launched a campaign to improve digital knowledge in the region.
Our area is the third worst in the UK with 24% lacking the four basic online skills needed to send and receive email, use search engines, browse the internet and complete online forms.
Working with local councils and the Post Office, Go ON UK aims to boost the basic online skills of every person, small business and charity across the region over the next 12 months. A similar campaign in Liverpool has reduced the number of people offline by 55% in 18 months.
The first of many events is a mental health day this Saturday at Newcastle Monument to help combat the social isolation caused by a lack of digital skills.
As 16 million people in the UK have either never used the internet or have limited skills, Post Office branches now offer a free service where staff print out customers’ five nearest internet access and training points.
Steph Reilly, who runs Hetton-le-Hole Post Office says older customers in particular are frightened of technology. “People often ask us to help them pay their council tax online,” said Steph, who has installed wi-fi. “I’m hoping to get funding for some PCs to help them.”
Carol Williamson, digital inclusion officer at Newcastle City Council said: “Anyone who wants to apply for benefits, jobs or school admissions needs to be online but not everyone understands the language such as ‘clicks’ and ‘tabs’. But we can offer one to one training to take the fear away.”
To get online call 0800 77 1234 or ask at your local Post Office. More information is at www.digitalskills.com