Two friends from Edlington have improved their digital skills and improved their lives – and now they’re inspiring others to do the same as the stars of this year’s national Get Online Week.
Rob Smedley, 40, and Rachel Littlewood, 30, met when they were learning about computers and the internet at the Edlington Hilltop UK online centre. Now they’re two of the real-life learners featured on Get Online Week posters and leaflets that will be displayed up and down the country – encouraging people to get to a local event, get online, and see how it can make life better, easier, cheaper, and more fun.
The tenth annual Get Online Week campaign is run by tech-for-good charity Tinder Foundation, and takes place 17-23 October. Each year the adverts inspire around 50,000 people to get involved.
It’s a bit odd being the ‘face’ of a national campaign, but I know first hand how important and how empowering technology can be. I’m most happy to be a poster-boy if it’s going to help someone else take that step to learn more.
Rob had been unemployed for three years when he found his way to the Edlington Hilltop Centre, explaining:
“I call them the wilderness years. Because that’s what it felt like. I was pretty much at rock bottom. I’d applied for literally thousands of jobs, and heard back from less than 20. Edlington Hilltop helped me. With their advice and guidance I dusted off and updated my old CV, brushed up on my rusty computer skills and internet etiquette, and did some mock interviews. And gradually my confidence started to grow again as I got up to speed. It was massive. Exactly what I needed, and a real turning point in my life.
As Rob’s personality started to come out, he started to help others around him. That turned into more official volunteering at the centre, and eventually into a work placement. When a job to manage the centre’s 68 volunteers came up, Rob went for it, and got it.
I can’t tell you what a good feeling it was to finally get a job, and to get a job I really, really wanted. Now I get to do for others what the team at the Edlington Hilltop Centre did for me. This place built me back up from nothing, taught me new skills, and most importantly helped me to believe in myself again. And that’s often the most important step.
For Rachel, a single mum to 10-year-old Lily, learning about computers and the internet has been key in learning about and managing her health. She was diagnosed with Fibrous Dysplasia, a disease that causes growths or lesions in her bones, resulting in pain and limited movement.
Being told you’ve got something with a big, scary name is something of a shock. I worried about what would happen if I needed surgery, who would look after Lily, and how I’d cope day-to-day. After I got the diagnosis I wasn’t really in the right place to ask the right questions. But I could go away and look things up online. I found out lots more information, and lots of stories from people living with the same condition. That really helped me. I can also book appointments and repeat prescriptions online – it’s a lot easier to fit things in around Lily’s school hours.
It’s more important than ever for me to look after myself and keep myself as fit and mobile as possible. Lily and me like to look up healthy recipes. She used to be terrible at eating her vegetables but she’s much better now she can pick the meals and help to cook them, and arrange them in funny faces on the plates!
Getting online really is helping us stay healthy, and helping us in so many other ways too. I’m really excited to be a Get Online Week model because I think it’s so important for people to be able to take advantage of all the benefits being online can bring. And Get Online Week is a great excuse to give it a go! I’d say to anybody to get along to a UK online centre like Edlington Hilltop and get a helping hand to get online.
Look, if Rachel and I can do it, so can anyone. There are going to be hundreds of introductory events during Get Online Week, and there’s sure to be one near you. It’s a great opportunity to go in and see what you could learn, and how they could help you, too.
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 said:
Rob and Rachel are both a brilliant advert for getting online, because they’ve used their new digital skills not just to improve their own lives, but to improve the lives of those around them.
Everyone needs basic online skills nowadays – whether you’re trying to book a holiday, apply for benefits, keep in touch with family and friends, manage your money, help with homework, follow a hobby – find a job like Rob, or look after your health like Rachel. Hopefully people will see their posters and be inspired to follow in their footsteps. Big thanks must go to both of them for being such fantastic ambassadors and models!
There are an estimated 12.6 million people in the UK like Rachel and Rob 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 this Get Online Week, there’s events taking place across Doncaster 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.