'Vital in the modern world': Havering on the importance of getting online in 2022, and where to find support 

Andy Greaves, deputy group curriculum director, creative and digital at New City College

Andy Greaves, deputy group curriculum director, creative and digital at New City College, believes that digital literacy is playing a vital part in both our personal and work lives - Credit: New City College

Digital literacy, or the ability to access and use the internet effectively, has never been more essential than it is today. 

Encouraged by the endless Zoom calls and online distractions getting many through the pandemic, people’s personal and work lives have become more and more entwined with the digital world. 

A study by Vodafone entitled No One left Behind, the UK’s Digital Divide in 2021, found just under two-thirds of people (63 per cent) seeking employment said they would benefit from digital skills training.

Although many in Havering are retired (26.7pc) or work in roles not typically associated with going online, Havering is certainly not immune from a growing pressure to develop such skills. 

One 75-year-old resident, who did not want to give her name, said she does not use the internet for social media but does have the ability to search for information if need be. 

“I had a basic background of using a library computer and I left before the internet hit the world of libraries," she said, adding she “just bungled through”. 

While she is without particular training, she did say she thinks it is “essential” in today’s society. 

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“There’s so much you can’t do without a computer.” 

Andy Greaves, deputy group curriculum director of creative and digital at New City College, described digital literacy as “vital in the modern world”. 

Andy Greaves, deputy group curriculum director, creative and digital at New City College

Andy Greaves, deputy group curriculum director, creative and digital at New City College - Credit: New City College

“Digital literacy is needed for both home life and work,” he said. “Employers embrace the advantages of online communication tools such as Teams and Skype, and parents now need to access online materials that schools are setting for their children.  

“Without it, people will face barriers to supporting their families, upskilling and better job prospects.” 

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, said ensuring everyone has the ability to use and access the internet should be part of the government's levelling up agenda.  

Dagenham and Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas. Picture: HM Government.

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham - Credit: Archant

“Talk of levelling up often focuses on new rail lines and construction projects, but I believe there should be more focus on investing in growing the skills of local people, especially children,” he said.  

“As we transition into a more digital economy with both learning and working practices changing dramatically due to the pandemic, it is important that local authorities ensure residents are equipped with the skills to succeed.” 

Where to find support 

While gaining a good level of digital literacy is becoming increasingly necessary, finding support is not always easy. 

Across Havering, there are numerous ways residents can access help to develop their online skills. 

A Havering Council spokesperson said local centres such as libraries and groups with community hubs typically offer guidance. 

They said the local authority is supporting better digital literacy via a number of avenues. 

“This includes helping organisations secure external funding and working alongside a number of groups across the community to help residents, especially those who find using online services challenging or don’t have the resources in their own homes.” 

Groups which can help include Di’s Diamonds Age UK, Havering Volunteer Centre, and Peabody. 

The spokesperson added: “During the Covid pandemic there was an increase in people going digital and on average across the borough, 94pc of households who responded to the 2021 Census completed their questionnaire online. 

“We are currently looking at more ways in which residents can be supported to stay online and continue to improve their skills and confidence.” 

Macy Yorke 

At 22, it is unsurprising Macy Yorke says she is on the internet “all the time”, including to play games and use social media. 

Macy Yorke

Macy Yorke - Credit: Greg McNeill-Moss

While she used to work in hospitality, where she did not need digital skills, she said she is currently scouring the web every day to find a new job. 

In Elm Park, however, she believes there is a lack of digital services available, something potentially affecting safety in the borough. 

"You can inform the whole community to be careful and spread awareness [on the internet]," she said. "It would bring the community in a lot closer if everyone had greater access." 

Anna Vaughan 

With no broadband at home, 74-year-old Anna Vaughan said she rarely gets online. 

Anna Vaughan

Anna Vaughan - Credit: Ben Lynch

She said she continues to use in-store services where possible, such as banking, where she still heads into her local branch. 

She added, however, that her infrequent use of the internet is not because she cannot, as she does have a smartphone, but the cost. 

“I probably could [use it], but financially, I can’t afford it,” she said. 

Anna said she is comfortable when she has to go online, but on a state pension, she decided she does not need it beyond essential services. 

However, if she did have broadband, she “thinks” she would access services online more often. 

Jim Shaw 

Despite working as a sealant applicator on a building site, in a role he said does not require digital skills, Jim Shaw said gaining better digital literacy is “something we should work towards in the future”. 

Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw - Credit: Edmund Bissett

The 63-year-old said he benefits from going online for convenience, with many services available on his phone. 

He added, however, that for people who did not grow up using the internet, there is a need to be willing to learn and take on the new technology. 

“We’ve got to do it; you still have to apply yourself.”