Silver Screens and Silver Surfers

Did you know that nearly 3/4 of women over the age of 75 (73%) have never been online? That is two million people. 59% of men in the same age group haven’t either – another 1.2 million people.

Why does it matter? Because it is increasingly difficult to do simple things, like change energy provider, buy insurance, or apply for a blue badge as a disabled driver, if you are not online. Because buying shopping online saves you having to pay a carer to carry it for you. Because social media is fun and a way to keep in contact with people, particularly if getting out is difficult. Because relying on family, neighbours or information services like Age UK Barnet’s to do these simple things is disempowering, and ultimately infantilising, if you have always managed your affairs yourself.

Age UK Barnet runs classes right across the borough, where older people can get free one-to-one tuition, mainly with sixth formers from local schools. We also have IT buddies who will help people in their own homes and a number of iTea and biscuits events (with many thanks to Brent Cross and John Lewis who have supported some of these).

The classes are not just about learning how to use a computer or a tablet, you can explore mobile phones and digital cameras too.

I love this project for so many reasons. Because the older students have told me how exciting it was to Skype their children for the first time, or speak to grandchildren on Facebook. Because they say things like “Now I know what everyone is talking about; I feel part of the modern world”.

I love the confidence and skills it gives the sixth form tutors. One boy told me he had never had to communicate with a person with a hearing impairment before; he had to learn to make eye contact, speak clearly and not use slang, because “innit” doesn’t translate very easily.

More than anything, I love this project for the way it breaks down the stereotypes of age discrimination. Age discrimination largely affects teenagers and older people. There is a perception of teenagers as lazy, workshy, selfish, aggressive and dishonest. There is a perception of older people as honest, but weak, pitiable, slow and humourless. 60% of older people believe that age discrimination affects their daily lives, more than any form of discrimination, and 53% believe that when you reach very old age people treat you as a child.

I think the only way you break down those stereotypes, the only way you change discrimination of any kind – whether it is based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion or any other characteristic, is to bring people together. Because once you have a relationship with someone, the stereotypes fall away. And so our sixth form tutors have found that older people do have a sense of humour, can learn new skills even in their nineties and are not as pitiable as they might have thought. And our older students have learnt that teenagers are kind, patient, willing to volunteer and honest. One told me that before she had done the course her perception of teenagers was influenced by stories in the media of the Summer riots and gang crime. If she saw a group of young people waiting at the bus stop she would have been too intimidated to join them. Now she is no longer afraid, in fact she may know some of them.

To my mind that is as valuable as saving money on your energy bills (which is definitely valuable too). A very special effect.

Thank you to the great schools which support this work – Whitefield Academy, St James Catholic High, Christ College Finchley, Bishop Douglass, Queen Elizabeth Girls, Copthall, Mill Hill, Woodhouse College and Wren Academy.

Just to be a little controversial, Barnet Council is planning to channel shift, to put all services online, because it is much cheaper for them. There are 60,000 older people in the borough, and many of them use council services. In order to make this policy work and to realise the savings they want to make, I think they should allocate some money from their IT and communications budget to help get older people online. I don’t think this should be an adult social services issue – they need to fund care. I think it is a communication issue and this would be a reasonable adjustment if you want to make everything online. If you agree with me, do let your local councillor know.

Back to the Secret Postcard Sale – 23 November in Mr Simms, 781 High Road North Finchley, N12 8JY and a subtle shift from little screens to bigger ones, with all the animation of a bounding teenager. I want to highlight three film directors/ animators who have kindly donated postcards to the sale, all three experts in very special effects.

Terry Gilliam A man of many talents – screenwriter, film director, animator, actor and a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As well as appearing in Monty Python sketches, he was responsible for the animations. His many films have earned a string of awards, including a BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 2009. Thank you Mr Gilliam, you are very kind to support us and I adore your postcard.

Marco Sandeman is a gentle man and a gentleman, who has made music videos for the likes of Paul McCartney, Bart Warshaw, The Kooks, the Pipettes, Molotov Jukebox and the National Youth Theatre amongst others. You may not know his name, but you will love his work and his postcard. Take a look here:

Darren Wall is a director of Planet Jump, an animation studio based right here in Barnet.  From storyboarding the new One Direction video “Best Song Ever” to a Judge Dredd 3D animated comic, via a trailer for Call of Juarez, his work is atmospheric and totally beautiful. So is the postcard. Take a look at their website here:

Thank you all – I am so grateful.


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