Getting IT Together in Sutherland
A Citizens Online blog
After being approached by the Learning to be Enterprising Co-ordinator of Lairg Learning Centre to deliver a series of four themed internet training sessions, it was agreed that we would deliver basic level sessions, focussed on first click style basic internet skills, setting up and using an email account, staying safe online and any additional internet skills that the new learners wanted to focus on.
Lairg is a remote village located in Sutherland, with approximately 700 people, a small village shop, a petrol station, a doctor’s surgery and a pub. But over the course of four weeks in November and December 2011, villagers were invited along to the Lairg Learning Centre to get to grips with the Internet.
We followed three participants during the programme, all over 60: John- a local ghillie who is just starting to use technology in his everyday life and hoping to start a new business venture on the estate, Sandra – a granny with family located away from the local area, and Penny – a local waitress.
So what happened?
Sandra - an absolute ‘newbie - was thrilled to use Amazon for the first time and find her daughter-in-law’s forthcoming book available for sale.
"I have a laptop at home that I’ve never used. I emailed my son this week to tell him about the course. I just feel more confident."
Her daughter-in-law had told her all about it, and she was delighted to see the cover and even read a few pages online, as there are no bookshops in the vicinity (the nearest bookshop is in Dornoch, which is 30 miles away and would be very unlikely to carry such specialist stock). She was able to set up an email account to order this and now understands search engines and online shopping. She also brought in her laptop so she could practice on that.
Penny was delighted to be able to look at all the options for buying silver jewellery for her daughter’s Christmas present and was able to find a site that had jewellery she liked. She also searched on eBay and we discussed the pros and cons of eBay buying. She also set up a PayPal account. We then went on to discuss - at length - how she might go about booking a holiday online. Penny also explained to me that although she is working in a bar, which many people wouldn’t think required any digital knowledge – all the ordering, stocking and billing is done on a computer and she really has never felt comfortable with this.
"I’m so excited about being able to shop online! Normally we have to drive two hours down to Inverness for the sales, but now I can find bargains on high street shop sites. I’m even thinking about booking a whole holiday for next year, doing everything separately rather than as a package which we’ve always had to do in the past. Nepal!”
John has been working through online basics, setting up and using email and getting used to the internet. He has big plans and is really keen to carry on working with the project to help him take his plans a wee bit further.
In the fragile communities in which we work as part of Get IT Together, facilities are extremely limited and shopping is extremely challenging. In North West Sutherland, there are only a few small village shops selling the absolute basics and those unable to get online themselves have to rely on either travelling to Inverness (a 200-mile round trip) or asking others for their help. Access to online shopping is therefore of vital importance. There are no shoe shops, electrical shops, haberdasheries, clothing outlets...many of the facilities which people in urban areas take for granted. To support someone in online shopping has a more lasting impact than elsewhere.
This basic course has also inspired one of our users to go further – to work towards setting up his own site and ultimately his own business. In our rural community, the use of a digital presence is vital in attracting new customers and in showcasing the natural beauty to tourists hoping to visit. John understands this and knows this is his first step to something bigger.
"I just want to learn more about using the internet because I want to set up my own website and encourage people to come to the area, to spend a day with someone who knows the land, the rivers and the lochs, and who can show them the best place to photograph. I don’t just want to take people to shoot the animals anymore, I want to do something else. It’s beautiful here and I want to show them that."