Sunderland sees the rise of the silver surfers

IT Tutor John Walls with pupil Busi Mnisi 61,  at Age Uk Bradbury Centre in Stockton Road, Sunderland.
IT Tutor John Walls with pupil Busi Mnisi 61, at Age Uk Bradbury Centre in Stockton Road, Sunderland.
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SOCIAL networking, online shopping and video calling are no longer the domain of the under-35s.

Over-65s are challenging youngsters when it comes to using technology, new data from the Office of National Statistics has revealed.

Senior man using computer

Senior man using computer

And charitable company Age UK – which combines Age Concern and Help the Aged – hoped to attract more pensioners to the worldwide web with its ITea and Biscuits campaign.

The recent drive was aimed at giving people the chance to use technology such as the Internet and digital cameras in later life, often for the first time, to draw in some of 5.7million plus over-65s who have never been online.

Former boilermaker Charles Pocklington was something of an internet veteran.

Now the 73-year-old goes to weekly IT sessions at Age UK Sunderland, in the Bradbury Centre, Stockton Road.

After being made redundant from the shipyards in the 1990s, he signed up for college courses in “anything and everything”, including computer literacy programme the European Computer Driving Licence.

Great-grandfather Charles, from Pallion, says he uses new technology as a way of keeping in touch with relatives around the world, and digging into the Pocklington family’s past.

“When I started I was as green as grass. Now I’ve been looking at our family tree,” he says.

“A family member in Australia had started it and I helped fill in the gaps. Our family were regatta men, and I got back to the 1600s.

“We used to own an island in Derwent which was part of our family’s estate.

“I’ve also got family in Florida and a cousin’s sister lives in New York.

“I talk to them through Skype (internet video calling) and Messenger.”

Charles has also tried out buying from online auction sites.

“I bought a dongle on eBay for my laptop,” he added. “I still buy a newspaper, but I read the news online as well.

“For anyone interested, I would say, just do it. It is easy enough and there are people there to teach you.

“There is nothing to be frightened of and it is better than sitting in the house.

“You can find all sorts of things on the web.”

Fellow classmate Busi Mnisi, originally from South Africa, admitted to initially being an internet novice.

But after two months of sessions with the Age UK tutors, the grandmother has bought flights online for a trip back to her homeland.

Now she also has a Facebook account, uses Skype to chat with friends and family in South Africa, and researches her country’s culture on Google.

“I had never done anything with computers before,” said the 61-year-old, from Ashbrooke. “I had never even touched a mouse.

“Then I thought, this thing isn’t going to go away.”

After visiting to her local library, Busi was put in contact with Age UK.

She now attends drop-in sessions at the centre three times a week, as well as an IT class.

“I’m getting better and better,” said Busi. “I’m now learning how to do photo restoration, then making old photos into an album or calendar.

“I would encourage anyone to come along and get involved with Age UK.”

Tutor John Walls has spent eight years helping the older generation get online.

“We tailor the courses to what people want to learn,” he said.

“We show them all the major stuff and the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet, but it’s 90 per cent reading of the screen and 10 per cent common sense.

“The oldest person I’ve had at one of the classes was 93.

“Skype is very popular at the moment because it does not need a lot of technical knowledge, and people can talk to their families in Canda and Australia.

“It’s amazing to see that.

“We had one person who had Christmas dinner with their family in Australia via Skype.

“Computing as a hobby is very enjoyable, and everyone who comes into the computer suite wants to learn and they have the free time to do it.”

Age UK is looking for internet champions to pass on their knowledge to older people who want to get to grips with new technologies.

Services director Helena Herklots said: “We know that when people are online they are extremely active.

“In fact, research shows that older people who are online spend more time surfing the web than other generations.

“Therefore if you know how to use a computer, mobile phone or digital camera, why not teach an older person you know?

“It could make a huge difference to their life.”

Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, said: “It’s impossible to imagine life without the internet for anyone who uses it regularly.

“I firmly believe you are never too old to get started with the web – in fact it’s older people who have the most to benefit from being online.

“The internet is a vital tool to help reduce isolation and ensure people stay independent for longer.”

For information call 0800 169565 or visit