A pair of digital champions from Newcastle are helping to get people online – and they’re getting so much out of the experience they’ve become the poster boys of this year’s national Get Online Week!

The tenth annual Get Online Week takes place this week (17-23 October), and will see hundreds of local events take place up and down the country, advertised with local posters and leaflets. Keith Connelly and Ray Orrick are two of the real-life models featured in the ads, which each year inspire around 50,000 people to give the internet a go.

Keith and Ray became digital champions because they wanted to give something back to the Byker community where they live. They volunteer for the UK online centre run by Newcastle housing association Byker Community Trust, and it’s their job to help residents get the most out of computers and the internet. When they saw a call for Get Online Week models, they volunteered for that role too!

“If seeing our mugs on a poster helps someone realise that a bunch of folks like us are sat ready and waiting to help them get to grips with computers, then it’s well worth it,” says Ray.  “It’s definitely not all technical,” agrees Keith. “Just ordinary people like us who can help you do things online.”

Ray had a lot to learn himself before he could start helping other people. He explains: “When I saw this call for digital champions I knew it could be right up my street. I also knew I had a lot of learning to do, because the last time I used a computer it was all floppy disks and enormous monitors that took up half your desk. I was definitely the new kid on the block, so to speak! I soon worked my way through the Learn My Way courses though, and I found them really easy to follow. As far as I’m concerned that puts me in the best possible position to teach other people, because I’ve been there myself.”

Keith had a bit more digital experience, and has used the internet for pretty much as long as he can remember. He adds: “I love being online, and I enjoy passing that on to other people, too. There’s so much interesting stuff out there, and so much that can help people with their day-to-day life – whether that’s looking for a job, booking a doctor’s appointment, filling in a form, comparing prices on energy bills, or keeping in touch with friends and family.”

“We start at the very beginning,” continues Ray. “So we can show people a computer or tablet, help them turn it on, explain all about the programmes or apps and how it all works. And then we help people do whatever it is that they’re interested in. Small steps is the trick.”

Keith says: “I’ve been helping a lovely lady recently called Marion. She’s got family over in Australia and she really wanted to learn how to use Skype. Together she’s set up her account and made her first call – face-to-face. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter if you’ve never been online before or if you already know a bit. Go along to your local Get Online Week event and see where getting online could get you.”

Helen Milner is Chief Executive of Tinder Foundation – the organisation behind the national network of UK online centres and annual Get Online Week campaign. She says: “Keith and Ray are such great digital champions for two reasons – they love technology and they love helping people. Like Keith says, there’s hundreds of Get Online Week events taking place between 17 and 23 October, and lovely people like Keith and Ray on hand to help you or someone you know explore the internet. Go along for a cup of tea, a biscuit, and a chat about what you could be doing online.”

There are an estimated 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have the basic online skills to make the most of technology in everyday life. If you know someone who could do with a helping hand from someone like Keith or Ray this Get Online Week, there’s events taking place across Newcastle between 17 and 23 October. Visit www.getonlineweek.com or call the National Careers Service free on 0800 77 1234 to find one near you.

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