Shropshire Star

Confidence boost for Kevin as he comes to the end of a 10-week digital skills course launched by Shropshire Council

A 79-year-old Shropshire resident has spoken of his confidence boost after participating in a council scheme to help over 65s get online.

Kevin Read-Jones 79 (in grey), he has been learning IT skills here, taught by IT helper Chris Tatam 73

Kevin Read-Jones has taken part in the 10-week course at his local library in Market Drayton, with the aid of IT trainer Chris Tatam.

The series of workshops, launched by Shropshire Council, have been running across the county with the aim of helping older people get online.

Kevin Read-Jones 79 (in grey), he has been learning IT skills here, taught by IT helper Chris Tatam 73

Despite having a PC, laptop and phone at home, Kevin was keen to find out more about the array of digital applications, as well as computer shortcuts and social media.

"I knew there were things that can be done that I didn't know how to do," Kevin said, "We spend a lot of time on video calls as both families live abroad.

"It's great for people at the shallow end, so my aim was to improve things I was doing, so getting advice on shortcuts.

"There are so many different ways of communicating visually now it's just amazing."

Kevin had a career in sales management and spent most of his life without the use of digital aids and technology, he said.

Through the 10-week course, he has learnt how to operate Facebook, how to attach photos to emails, how to use iCloud and how to store documents on a computer hard drive.

Kevin Read-Jones 79 (in grey), he has been learning IT skills here, taught by IT helper Chris Tatam 73

He was first introduced to the digital world when he won a Zed X Spectrum – an 8-bit home computer – when it was released in the UK on April 23, 1982.

But he acknowledged that technology has come on 'leaps and bounds' since then and that there is plenty to explore if you know how.

Tori Watson, of Market Drayton Library, said: "The demand is high as there is a large section of our community for whom computer skills are just not there and it is now starting to affect their access to modern life.

"This course enables them to gain the confidence to step forwards and embrace all that technology is able to help them with.

"Because the course is bespoke it works at the individual’s pace and not to a fixed timetable, some may reach the end earlier and our wonderful volunteers are able to give them the time they need.

"I can’t see the need abating and suspect we, as a branch, will continue to offer something similar, volunteers permitting, long term."

Kevin Read-Jones 79 (in grey), he has been learning IT skills here, taught by IT helper Chris Tatam 73

In the 2021 Census for Shropshire it was revealed that the over 65 population had increased by 29.5 per cent since 2011 – a greater increase than the England average of 20.1 per cent.

There are now 82,000 people aged over 65 living in the county – up from 63,300.

A learner self-assessment is carried out before and after the programme – on week one and week 10 – to assess how participants have improved.

Learners assess themselves in seven key digital areas using a scale of one to five, with one being no skills at all and five being good enough to teach others.

The seven areas are: 'Getting Started' – understanding your device; 'Email' – using your email; 'The Internet' – making the most out of the internet including online shopping and ordering a prescription; 'Staying Safe' – safety and security online; 'Documents and Storage'; 'Keeping in Touch – using social media and messaging platforms and 'Photos'.

155 learners have so far completed their digital support and each learner has received an average of 10.67 weeks of one-to-one support with an IT volunteer.

The aim of the Digital Skills programme is for progression in at least five of the seven key digital skills areas.

Raw data has been provided by Shropshire Council.

Here are the results so far:

A bar chart showing the digital skill level before learning of participants. Photo: Megan Howe
A bar chartshowing the digital skill level after learning of participants. Photo: Megan Howe
Overall findings. Photo: Megan Howe

The data shows the programme has so far delivered positive results for participants and on average, learners are taken from a digital skills level of 23.2 per cent to 58 per cent.

Shropshire Council hopes the programme will support 500 individuals in total.

Kevin Read-Jones 79 (in grey), he has been learning IT skills here, taught by IT helper Chris Tatam 73

Rob Gittins, Shropshire Council cabinet member for culture and digital, said: “As we move further into accessing services digitally, it is important that no-one feels left behind and out of touch.

“Our volunteers are opening up new opportunities to people over 65 and the training is friendly and easy to understand.

“Ordering medications quickly and easily, feeling safe online, getting food shopping delivered to your door, and enjoying video calls with friends and family are just some of the skills digital volunteers can help people to learn and boosts peoples' independence.

“People can learn on their own tablet, mobile phone or laptop, and we have free tablets and connectivity for participants in greatest need.”