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TV makes stars of Shrewsbury silver surfers

BBC Midlands Today was in Shrewsbury this week, filming a remarkable group of learners at Severnside Housing’s Digital Den in Meole Brace.

The Digital Dens have been piloting a course of workshops helping older people to get online. In Meole Brace a lively group of students in which the average age is 81 and the oldest is 92 have been learning how to use iPads.

“Just 30 per cent of people aged 65+ use the internet, compared to 85 per cent of people of working age. One of our core values as a housing association is inclusiveness and sadly, digital exclusion means that older people are finding it increasingly hard to access services. Knowing how to use the internet can also play a really important part in keeping connected to friends and family,” said neighbourhoods director Jan Goode.

The silver surfers have been taking part in a course of six weekly workshops learning how to email, Skype, search for information and use Siri. The classes always finish with tea and cake and because they take place in local neighbourhoods, learners don’t feel as though they are going back into the classroom.

Midlands Today reporter Duncan Smith talked to the learners, along with digital champion Donald Sunderland, 82, who uses his own experience in IT to inspire others.

“At its best, technology brings us together. I met one man, like me in his eighties, who had never used a computer. I helped him to learn the basic skills he needed and suddenly, he could talk to relatives in Australia. It really is a ‘world wide’ web and it is waiting for all of us,” explained Don.

Digital Dens are based in local communities and offer cyber café-style facilities with internet access, help to get online, vocational courses, support to get into work and a venue for community use. They have been created through an innovative partnership between Shropshire-based Social Telecoms and Severnside Housing.

“We have got a waiting list of people who would like to take part in these workshops, underlining the strong desire among older people to get online. Like all the work that takes place at the Digital Dens, this project is free to participants and part of our commitment to supporting people and communities in this area,” said Jan Goode.

Further information about the support available at the Digital Dens can be found on the Digital Den webpages.