One of the best parts of my job is when I get to sit down with members of the public and help them get online as part of our Council Connect sessions. Usually these are staffed by volunteers, who kindly give up one morning or afternoon per week to help people learn anything from the basics of how to use a mouse and keyboard, to setting up your own blog. I love getting involved in these sessions because it’s where I get to see all the hard work put into organising things actually make a difference to somebody’s life. We get a really wide range of enquiries, many about the more mundane parts of being online like how to pay council tax or check planning applications, but most people who are just starting out online have one request in common – they want to learn how to get in touch with other people.
Be it through email, Facebook, Skype, or something like Flickr, people want to use the internet to communicate with friends, family, and complete strangers. A couple of weeks ago I helped someone access an email account that their children had set up for them more than a year before, but they hadn’t had the confidence to figure out how to check it. After showing her how to recover her password she logged in for the first time to find more than 50 photos of her family in Australia, which obviously she was pretty happy to see for the first time! It’s really exciting to see the moment the potential of the internet becomes real to somebody, and to know that you’ve helped someone achieve something is a great feeling. Questions inevitably follow in great numbers, and you can tell that all the things they’ve heard about , be it from friends, family or on TV, have changed into something that really means something to them.
Today I got to help someone that already knew quite a lot about the internet, but needed a bit of help with a new service. Councilor Anne Meadows is the current Mayor of Brighton & Hove, and wanted to learn about Twitter and its possibilities for getting the message out to residents about her activities as Mayor – particularly to help promote the work of charities in the city. For me, it’s exciting because I’ll get to see from the Mayor’s tweets just what impact that simple lesson will have. Hopefully we’ll see some great publicity for some great causes spread far and wide with the help of social media.
If you want to keep up with the Mayor’s activities you can find her at twitter.com/annemeadowsbtn and if you, or someone you know, want to take advantage of the free Council Connect sessions and learn something more about the internet you can find the schedule here http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/councilconnect where you’ll also find details about how to volunteer for the project.
Matt Day – Volunteers manager