The Post Office is about to launch into the cyber world with a host of post masters ready to bring the internet to their communitites.
Three people who run branches across the region have taken it upon themselves to make sure their customers aren’t left behind in the race to get online.
Their Get Connected service aims to tackle the 500,000 people in the North East still with limited internet skills.
Customers will be able to find out where their nearest internet facility is with branch staff printing off the five nearest places through a nationally compiled data base.
Setting up internet cafes, installing computers in branches and rolling out wi-fi might also be part of the mix in the future, depending on how enthusiastic post masters take on the challenge.
Ex-soldier Peter Stenner, who runs Mowden Park at Fulthorpe Avenue in Darlington with his wife Marilyn, said: “We pride ourselves on being a community centre and we could just see that there was a need for the internet.
“We’re getting two computers in as part of our modernisation of the branch and a dongle too, so people can get 3G.
“We just thought this is something that’s really important.
“There’s three or even four generations living on the estate and some clientele don’t go anywhere near the internet at all.”
Post master Andy Hill at the Square in Darlington is also investing in two desktop computers for customers and will part in the Get Connected service for anyone needing advice on where else they can publicly access the internet.
Chief executive of the Post Office Paula Vennells said: “There are millions of people who are missing out on the benefits of being online.
“It is a real disadvantage being excluded from the better deals and offers only available online.”
Campaign Go ON UK aims to get 125,000 more people online in the region in six months and is supported by the Post Office as well as Argos, EE, Lloyds Bank and TalkTalk.
Steph Reilly, who runs Hetton-le-Hole Post Office near Sunderland, said older customers in particular can sometimes be frightened of technology.
“People often ask us to help them pay their council tax online,” said Steph, who has recently installed wi-fi. I’m hoping to get funding for some PCs to help them.”
Newcastle City Councillor Ann Schofield added: “Not everyone will go to a college but they already go in the Post Office and are willing to talk to the staff so it’s fantastic.”