Page last updated at 05:31 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 06:31 UK

Courses click with Silver Surfers

By Simon Atkinson
Business Reporter, BBC News

Computer shop
Computer are not just something for young people, Age Concern says.

The world of blogs, wikis and Web 2.0 is no longer just a young person's game.

Using computers has overtaken gardening and DIY in the pensioners' list of hobbies - with pensioners spending an average of six hours online each week, according to Age Concern.

But the charity is nevertheless worried. Many are still excluded, it insists, estimating that nearly half of the UK's over-50s do not have access to a computer.

My grandchildren started taking the mickey out of me saying 'Nana you don't know anything about computers'
Eileen Ryan, 66

For the past ten years, it has been running programmes to help older people become more IT-literate.

And every week its Silver Surfer courses are teaching hundreds of older people the basics - from word processing and email to online shopping and using price comparison websites.

"At a time when older people are particularly concerned about money, given rising costs, it is particularly useful for them to understand how ordering and paying for services online could save them money," says Age Concern's director Gordon Lishman.

"The social benefits of being computer literate are also important since they give older people alternative means of communication with relatives and friends, as well as vital mental stimulation."

BBC News visited one of its sessions in Hackney, east London, to meet those taking part in and running the scheme.



There were computers at work but I didn't learn how to use them.

Because I was retiring, I just left it to the young ones.

My grandchildren started taking the mickey out of me saying 'Nana you don't know anything about computers'.

They tried to show me, but I couldn't keep up with them, so four months ago I started coming to the course and you learn so quickly.

Arthritis means I'm not very steady on my legs so once I get connected to the internet at home, I'll probably use it for shopping if I can't get out.

I've got a little study in my house so when I get the certificate to show I've passed the course, I'll put it up there. I hope the grandkids will be proud when they see it.



I didn't know anything about computers and never thought I would.

But eight months ago, someone suggested I try it.

From that point I've gone along bit by bit. I send emails to my family and write stories.

In the future I'm going to put pictures onto the computer.

I have promised that I'll write a story about my life.



I only learned how to use computers last year and now I have an NVQ.

I use the internet to send in the readings from my gas and electricity meters, and I get sent my bills online.

But when it comes to paying them I'd rather go down to the Post Office and use real money.

I don't like putting my credit card details in. How sure are we that crooks won't get their hands on it?


Diana Lewis

I never thought I'd use a computer but i'm just about getting confident.

I started using eBay - the first thing I bought was a some trainers.

Now I've used it to get a camera, a washing machine a fridge.

And there are websites where you can get things for free, that people don't use any more

It's part of life now.


The course started about six months ago. And now I shop online - not for my daily shopping but just things that are unusual or hard to get.

Recently I bought some seed potatoes for my garden. I just searched on Google, found someone selling them and stuck in my card details - so easy.

I'm not worried about using my card online. It's insured so if the worst happens, I can get the money back.



I learned some computer basics in the 1990s but it had all gone out of my head so last year I started learning all over again.

I hadn't taken much interest but realised it could be helpful if I could use a computer to perform one or two activities.

I mainly email friends and family and know about the potential for online shopping, but have not used it for that yet.



Many of the older people who come here have children and grandchildren living abroad.

They've found that the computer can bring them closer, even if they are thousands of miles away.

They are using it to get information about health and to do their shopping.

We try to teach them how to use computers and the internet without the jargon, which is what can confuse a lot of people, especially the elderly.



I've been using computers for a little while.

At first I thought the internet was just for chatting and things like that. I couldn't be bothered doing that all day.

I learned to email, but once you do that you need a reason to use it. So I've been using the computer to try to find out about my father who was an Afro-American GI stationed in England during World war II.

I'm making progress and computers have opened up my world.


One school of thought says that soon there will be no need for courses like this because in a decade, nearly everyone will have had contact with computers through their jobs.

But as technology evolves there will be new things to learn.


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