Essex UnITe

BBC Digital Participation Award
East of England

More than 600 older people living in sheltered accommodation in Essex have gained a new lease of life through IT – opening doors for many to new ‘careers’ as assistant tutors in their 70s and 80s.

They are part of the Essex UnITe project, and their commitment to learning is being recognised with the Digital Participation Award, sponsored by the BBC. The scheme set out to show older people how computers could change their lives. So far, 650 residents have taken a five-week course and are now using IT for creative writing, genealogy and digital photography. Some have undertaken further training to become mentors and assistant tutors – ‘golden ambassadors’. Workshops and road shows are also taking place across the county with the aim of reaching 8,000 older people in danger of social isolation.

In addition, Essex UnITe is developing a social networking site for older people and a resource toolkit to offer to neighbouring counties. “I did not have a clue before, but now I can send emails, surf the web and look up hotels and go back down memory lane to look at old singers of my day such as Matt Monro,” said 87-year-old ‘golden ambassador’ Albert Hearn. “It really is a social activity and has made the people here closer, as it is something of a fellowship.”