My Hour for #GiveAnHour

I spent my hour yesterday (Sunday 30th October) in central Sheffield talking to people about how and if they use the internet – and trying to persuade them to give it a try if they didn’t. It was great to have the help of Emma Cooper (@Em_Cooper), in the photo below with one Sheffield interneter enjoying the Halloween Fair.

As I’m into my stats I was surprised to meet lots of people in their 30s and 40s who had never used the internet. Between Emma and I we think that we persuaded about 30 people to get online and to go to one of the 50+ free events happening around Sheffield this coming week.


Of course we got lots of people who just said “no”. The two most common excuses for not being online were “I’m too old” and “The internet is too dangerous”. It’s was great to have seen the BBC video last week of the 104 yr old man helping his young (89) wife to get online – if he can do it anyone can!

With two women I spoke to, I got the sense that it could be a real turning point for them, and both of them asked “do you really think I could do it?” and “can people like me go to these events?”. They had previously assumed that the internet was something for other people so it was great to reassure them that they could give it a go. 

One man I spoke to will now definitely get online. He said he thought he needed more than an hour – so I reassured him that there was help for him for as long as he needed it. His friend suggested that he could now get “one of them cameras”.

Cost was an issue for some people, particularly younger offline people. The Plusnet offer of 50 free one year’s broadband which is available to Sheffield residents was a significant incentive for some of the people I talked to, and shows just how important having the support of organisations like Plusnet is.

It was good to have the “give an hour” message for the younger people and many of them were going to encourage their grandparents to get online. Unfortunately lots of people had tried to help a loved one get online, one man had even bought his mum a computer, but they had all failed and had decided that nothing was going to help.

There were also lots of people who said they didn’t know anyone offline. It was nice to talk to students in Sheffield whose Grandparents email them regularly and who delighted at how much their loved ones kept in touch online. One woman I spoke to in her 70s told me she didn’t know how she would cope without the internet and thanked us for helping others to get the same benefits that she enjoyed.

I even caused an argument between two women in the late 40s. One online, one offline. When I couldn’t persuade the offline woman that the internet had anything to interest her, they walked off. However Emma heard them walking up the street arguing about why the offline woman wouldn’t give the web a chance. If we didn’t get her online, at least we started a conversation.

This week, I’m giving my blog up to different members of the UK online centres team who will be blogging about how they’re giving their hour in and around Sheffield, so do keep an eye out!

18 million people are willing to give an hour

You probably know by now that I’m a stats nerd, but did you know which set of statistics I use the most? An amazing 30 million people in the UK use the internet everyday [ONS, 2011] with learning and keeping in touch being the most regular online activities [Ofcom, 2011]. Many of us who make up this 30 million learned how to get the most out of using the web through our friends or family members, and have been inspired through this basic interaction.  There are still 8.7million people[ONS, 2011] who have never, ever, ever used the internet – and so it makes sense to use these interactions to inspire them as well.

Earlier this year Martha Lane Fox [@marthalanefox] made a rallying cry to recruit 100,000 local digital champions from communities and corporates alike, and this first milestone has already been achieved. We’re working with Martha and her Race Online team, and want to encourage all of you to Give An Hour as part of the huge national campaign that’s happening over the next fortnight.

We know lots of things about people who are online – and about people who are offline – but we didn’t know that much about the online people (we call them Digital Champions) who would like to help offline people until recently. Because of this, we commissioned some primary research with IFF who surveyed 2,056 representative adults, held four focus groups and found out some interesting things.

Out of the 40 million people who are regular internet users, 45% (18 million) are willing to spend an hour helping someone to get online for the first time. That’s a pretty big volunteer workforce.

Of this 18 million, most have already helped someone get started. Usually the offline person asked for help, and they started with something like email or Google. One person who had helped her Mum said: “It’s about finding that seed of interest, something they really like, and then showing them the link to what they really like.” Sometimes, they had tried to persuade a family member to get online but had met resistance or when they had helped someone to get online they had got frustrated at the experience – they had taken using things like a mouse for granted and hadn’t understood how slowly you need to go with a new internet user.  We’ll work closely with other interested parties on this research, including Race Online and the BBC, who have also commissioned research on Digital Champions.

Our new research shows that of the 18 million that are willing to help, 25% – or 4.5 million people – know someone who is offline. If just 10% of these people respond to the campaign call to action that’s almost 0.5m people who will get onto the internet for the first time in the next two weeks.

Out of the of the 18 million online people who are willing to Give An Hour, a staggering 11.5m (64%) are even willing to help someone they don’t know.  As these people might need a little bit of help to find someone who’s offline,  it makes sense to start thinking about them as volunteers who we can inspire to get in touch and get linked up to someone who is offline outside of their immediate circle.

As an immediate response, we’ve made it easier for Digital Champions who want to volunteer to help someone get online find somewhere they can do this.  You can take a look at this map, put in your postcode, and if you spot a gold star icon, that centre would love to hear from you.  We’ve also brought the map, and a Do-it search widget which allows you to find charity and community organisations who need your help, together on the Digital Champions website, which you can take a look at here.

We’re going further than this though, and our next step is to do some more research, and so that we can rigorously test some clever beta tools with new digital champions and the people they are going to help making it even easier for everyone to give the spare hours they have – during the campaign and beyond.

So, how will I Give an hour? Well, the campaign says that we will all get an extra hour when the clocks go back during Saturday night (29th October), so I’m going to use that hour in the streets of Sheffield on Sunday (30th) lunchtime handing out leaflets and talking to people. I want to see if I can persuade people to give up an hour of their own time to help someone to get online, I want to see if they know anyone who’s offline or not, and I’m always keen to talk to people not using the internet so I can try to encourage them to join our digital nation. I’ll be tweeting throughout, and keep an eye on this blog for an update on how I get on!

Visit or for more information. 


17 year unemployment high – how local action can help

The announcement today that unemployment has reached a 17 year high has led me to thinking about one of the universe’s age old questions. You’ll be pleased to know that (for today), I am giving the people vs. pipes issue a rest, and instead I’m thinking about what comes first. Rather than chickens and eggs, I’m thinking about getting people online and whether it’s the people or the policy that comes first…

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago after talking to Gabrielle, who has joined my team from a Jobcentre Plus office in Rotherham. At UK online centres, we’ve been working closely with Jobcentre Plus for a number of years, encouraging referral relationships to help people onto the web and into work. In fact, almost 1 in 4 of our referrals now come from Jobcentre Plus, and every Jobcentre Plus now has a Digital Champion whose role is to promote take-up of computers and the internet.  I know the policies are in place to help jobseekers get online but how does it really work on the ground?

Gabrielle says: “Working as an adviser for the Jobcentre, we saw quite a number of customers who didn’t have digital skills. We know that most jobs are advertised online, and not having an email address or being able to apply for jobs over the internet is a real barrier for people.

“Luckily, we had a great Digital Champion – Karl – in our office. He was really proactive, and was always sending emails about UK online centres and new places people could go to get online. He got everyone in the office enthused about what getting online could do for people – not just to help them find jobs but to help them do all sorts of things like keep in touch with family and friends, do their shopping, sell things on ebay, anything they were interested in.

“It’s great that Jobcentre Plus nationally are supporting this and I’m pleased to hear that Rotherham was a good example of how it actually worked. Of course it wasn’t perfect but most of the Advisers knew that helping people to get online was essential to getting them back into work.”

The policy may have come from JCP on high, but it’s the people on the ground making it work. Or maybe it’s these pockets of great practice that have driven the national picture? What’s clear is that people are at the heart of digital take-up.

When we’re encouraging large national organisations to commit to getting people online, it can often feel like a lot of empty promises – all well meaning but easily forgotten. This is why it’s great to hear how it’s really happening, when all the elements come together to create a committed local team who understand how important being online is.

Kim Sweeney, the Digital Champion at Blackpool’s Jobcentre Plus, says, “Since we’ve been working with UK online centres, there hasn’t been a single person who’s failed to get the hang of the computers. It’s rewarding seeing people go from being apprehensive of turning one on to being confident IT users, not only to support their job search but to contact old friends, find out about public services online and organise their social lives. That instant connection and empowerment can make all the difference to people, and to their job search.”

The figures today show that unemployment is at a 17 year high, with more than 2.5 million people out of work in the UK.  I’m sure stats nerds like me will find the BBC’s ‘the economy in graphics’ map very interesting for looking at how unemployment is affecting different regions. Jobcentre Plus and the Department for Work and Pensions are both under a lot of pressure to move mountains, inspire change and ultimately get these figures down – especially in the areas which are hardest hit.  I want to encourage DWP policy makers to look at our example – of a partnership that works, of grassroots action, local expertise and enthusiasm, and ultimately of real change.   The relationship between UK online centres and Jobcentre Plus really works – Gabrielle’s first hand knowledge of what’s happening, day in day out, on the ground proves this.



Getting Leeds online

Last week, I headed to another Yorkshire city to lend a hand in the Go ON Leeds campaign. The campaign was run by UK online centres and Race Online, along with lots of our lovely partners, to encourage people in the city to get online or to give their time to become Digital Champions.

A celebration lunch was held on Friday at Leeds Central Library, and not only did it give me the chance to talk to lots of interesting people but it was also a great way of showcasing the great partners who contributed to the campaign. A big thank you to Asda, the Post Office, O2, Leeds City Council and Leeds Library Services, and many more, for their contribution and for creating such a buzz about getting online in the city. It really does go to show how you can you achieve when you work together!

Another big thank you to Studio 12 who created this great video about the campaign which you can watch here.


I was even lucky enough to meet Greg Mulholland (@gregmulholland1 on Twitter), the MP for North Leeds, who you can see in this photo.