Citizens Online: Introducing people to the internet in Sutherland

This guest blog is by Irene Warner-Mackintosh, Project Co-ordinator at Get IT Together Highland, a digital inclusion project from Citizen’s Online

Man using a computer

Introducing someone to the benefits of the internet is a topic I’m passionate about, hence my involvement with MyFriends Online Week. Getting someone online for the first time can be a life changing event for them, bringing them closer to distant friends and family, and helping them access basic services such as shopping, banking and paying bills.

The charity I work for, Citizens Online, does exactly this. As part of a project called Get IT Together, we work hard to find people who aren’t online and contact a wide range of charities (such as Age Scotland) and statutory services. We work  with churches, mosques, WRI, bowling groups, knitting classes, bingo clubs, ceilidhs – anywhere that people show a wee bit of interest in what we do.

The project provides support for internet beginners and creates a welcoming, relaxed environment, usually with a cup of tea and a scone if we can. We’re not about ‘learning outcomes’ – it’s more than that.

People are at the heart of what we do. We try and find out what folk have heard about what others are doing – maybe emailing, or using Skype, finding recipes, a new crochet pattern, watching TV online, buying (or even selling) something on eBay… The things that we ‘onliners’ take so much for granted.

Digital inclusion is not about replacing real human relationships with virtual ones – it’s about making sure everyone is part of the new evolving online community and ensuring that no-one is left behind. As more and more government services go online, it’s vital that those who most need support aren’t left more vulnerable. We work with volunteers to ensure sustainability and, most importantly, to keep a real person involved – not an online avatar!

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I work in the beautiful county of Sutherland, where the wild beaches and mountains bring their own challenges, both in the distances people have to travel for the most basic facilities, and in the limitations of service provision in the local area. Get IT Together also goes a wee way to address these challenges, helping folk find places with broadband facilities and encouraging a wide range of community spaces to offer both computer and broadband access.

Citizens Online works across the UK, so  if you or someone you know might benefit from the work we do, or if you would like to volunteer with us please get in touch, either by contacting me directly, Irene.warner-mackintosh@citizensonline.org.uk, or by finding a more local contact on our website. You can also contact us on Facebook and Twitter.

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