How Citizens Online has helped North Yorkshire people get better connected
This month our Team North Yorkshire feature coincides with Get Online week, which aims to help prevent loneliness and isolation by encouraging more people to access the internet.
Organisations such as Citizens Online have recruited and trained a small army of volunteers to help people access the web and reduce digital exclusion.
Between April 1 and June 30 this year, Citizens Online helped at least 3,700 people via their digital support sessions.
Working alongside Reboot North Yorkshire, they also provide a short-term tablet loan scheme to allow people to experience the technology before they purchase their own equipment.
Volunteers make a massive difference in their communities by helping people become more confident using technology.
Support is also available via a network of IT buddies who are happy to help support people in their local libraries.
Community reporter Louise Perrin talked to Sylvia Barnes and Peter Dickinson who help people access the internet.
She also discussed the value of their help with Norton resident Sandra Boyce.
Sylvia, 70, became involved with Citizens Online after seeing an advert on the Harrogate Borough Council website who were looking for people to volunteer to help people get online.
She said: ‘I’m not an expert, but I thought ‘This might be something that I can do.’
“Covid came along and everything ground to a halt, then I heard from them again back in June.
"Citizens Online had been going for a number of years and they had a good database for training volunteers.
“I had a few online zoom meetings and I did online courses and we went from there.”
Once Sylvia had completed her training, the call centre system started to put her in touch with people.
She said: “Some had quite simple questions, while some were already using computers and needed advice.
“I had quite a number of phone calls with beginners and made some progress.
“Some have now gone on to face to face sessions at their local library.”
The initial point of contact is the helpline which people access by calling 0808 196 5883.
When people ring the number, they’re allocated a volunteer local to them.
Sylvia said: “Most of the people I talk to are from North Yorkshire.
“It can be quite tricky explaining to someone how to navigate through screens.
“Sometimes what they’re seeing is not well described and you have to try to figure it out!”
Sylvia was partnered with Sandra Boyce in Norton.
She said: “Sandra has had health issues in the recent past and is stuck at home quite a lot.
“She had an old laptop that didn’t work particularly well.
The first thing we did was loan her a tablet which we sent her in the post and we managed to get her going on that.
“She looks on websites that interest her, but her daughter was worried that she might get scammed, so she pays for anything Sandra wants to buy.
“She wasn’t doing anything very advanced. Just looking at things she was interested in and listening to music.
“It does seem to have made a big difference to her – she’s very positive.”
Sandra, 66, said: “I was put in touch with the Living Well People after suffering with depression during lockdown.
“I was in quite a state. It’s left me still not wanting to go very far, but my friends have put their foot down.
“I find it quite difficult, but I’ve done my shopping on my own this week – and I’m quite proud of myself.
“I had a laptop and I was learning to use it properly at computer classes, but I had a bleed on the brain.
“I’m fine when they go through it with me and then half an hour later, it’s as if I never learnt it. Sylvia was marvellous, she got me going quite well on my tablet.
“We’ve done a lot of laughing.
"She’ll say to me ‘You should be looking at this on your screen’ and I’ll reply ‘‘Well, that’s not what I’ve got!’
“I am much improved on it. I have a look on all sorts of sites.
"I like to look at shopping ones and clothes sites.
“The only other thing I’ve done is get set up with Netflix – I’ve watched more films in the last few months than I ever have in my life!
“Without Sylvia, I wouldn’t be able to use it.
“My daughter would do it for me rather than show me.
"She misses the point. Sometimes I need to do it and be shown how to do it myself.
"Without Sylvia I don’t know what I would have done. She’s been brilliant.”
Peter Dickinson from Crossgates, Scarborough, started volunteering as an IT buddy at Scarborough library five years ago.
He said: “I spend 99% of my time helping people complete applications for blue badges and bus passes and also doing CVs, helping with Universal Credit and doing job applications.”
Occasionally, Peter, 55, is asked for help with more unusual items, such as the time of the last bus to Whitby, or most randomly of all – where the best place is to purchase non-allergenic cat litter!
Peter worked as a bank manager in Bradford for 30 years before retiring to Scarborough.
He said: “ I’ve no formal training on computers, but I am very good at guessing things!
“I’ve helped a few people fill out the Spanish entry form so they can go on holiday – that’s relatively complicated.
“I get a lot of repeat business.
“The library books my time out in half hour slots and I’m usually fully booked.”
If you need help simply pop into the library or phone – there are people there who can help most days and if you’d like to volunteer.
Peter said they’d be pleased to see you.
He said: “We can always do with more people volunteering to help.
“Simply pop into your local library and complete an application.”