This year I was privileged to again be asked to judge Age UK’s Internet Champion of the year awards for the third year and last night was the big announcement. The awards aim to celebrate inspirational older people who have recently got online and who are passionate about the benefits the internet can provide. As always, the event was an inspirational one, and – if I needed a reminder – showed me just how powerful the internet can be in changing people’s lives.
One of the winners – Jim Perry – is 92 years young, and he only started his journey three years ago at his local UK online centre in Kent. He was accompanied to the event by Bev, one of the wonderful tutors from the centre who has supported Jim on his journey – both pictured here.
As well as receiving his award last night, Jim took a star turn on the Daybreak sofa this morning, to help promote the benefits of the internet to others who haven’t yet taken their first steps.
The one point Jim made clear – both at the awards last night and on Daybreak this morning – was that the help and support he received from the Eastchurch Learning Centre that made his journey possible. This is a fantastic advertisement for the centre itself, and for centres all over the country that are supporting people to get online for the first time, improve their skills and gain the confidence they need to change their lives. So congratulations to Jim, and all of the other unofficial Internet Champions throughout the country who have changed their lives – and a big thank you to all those who have provided the vital support to help them on their journey.
This morning on the telly when Jim was asked: “What should older people who want to get online do?” He replied: “Come and see me and I’ll sort you out.” I’m sure Jim – and the other winner last night, Jan – will help many thousands of people get the courage and motivation they need to get online for the first time through their Age UK TV, radio, and local media assignments. Even if they can’t go and see Jim personally, there are people in every community in the country ready to help.
It’s always nice to be able to share good news, and today I have something very exciting to share with you. The NHS Commissioning Board has announced today that – to support their aims for an inclusive NHS for all – they’ll be funding us at Online Centres Foundation (and more importantly, the UK online centres network) to support people to improve their skills, and in turn to improve their health.
There are some pretty weighty statistics that back up the NHS’s decision. Half of all people who are offline have a disability, and among the over 65s – who account for half of all NHS spending – 36% have never been online before. Not only does this mean that they can’t take advantage of things like saving money, connecting with friends and family and learning more, but they’re also missing out on being able to find information about their health, to research easily the services that are available in their local area and to make informed, healthy choices.
There are also huge inequalities in health between the poorest communities and the wealthiest ones – shockingly, in England people living in the poorest communities will die 7 years younger than those in the wealthiest communities. We know that people living in deprived communities are the most likely to be offline, and 80% of learners supported by the UK online centres network are socially excluded. So it’s a really good fit – this new partnership announced today aims to make sure digital inequalities don’t exacerbate health inequalities even further.
If you follow my blog, or my Slideshare, you’ll know that one of my favourite case studies from last year is of the lovely Norah who – since getting online – has lost a lot of weight and has seen significant improvements to her health. Her arthritis has improved so much that she’s now been able to take up the ukelele! And her diabetes has improved significantly, so she’s healthier, happier and has a new lease of life.
This is just one story of someone who has improved their health significantly because of the internet, and our partnership with the NHS will ensure it will be felt by many more across the nation, and in some of the UK’s most deprived communities. We’ll be working on creating new learning content for www.learnmyway.com that will support people with low skills to access health information online, and we’ll also be able to provide funding to centres within our network, so they can give people the hands-on support they need, at local places in the community, as well as directly working with health professionals to create more UK online centres in medical centres, clinics, GP surgeries or hospitals.
This partnership will ensure that those who are digitally excluded won’t be excluded in other ways too – like the chance to take control of their own health and wellbeing, and make informed choices that are right for them. I’m really excited about it – it’s good for the UK online centres network and for the nation as a whole.