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Councillors provide digital help

Brian Marshall [left] explains his digital problem to volunteer Andre Hattingh and Mayor Lyn Patterson. PHOTOS/MARY ARGUE

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Two mayors and a deputy mayor gathered in a community hub last week. It sounds like a weak opener to a joke, and although there were many laughs, the gathering was all business.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson, South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen, and Carterton Deputy Mayor Rebecca Vergunst were invited by charity Digital Seniors to help local seniors navigate their devices.

The meeting at the 3Mile hub in Carterton highlighted the work of Digital Seniors ahead of this week’s fundraising campaign.

Digital Seniors, launched in 2018, aimed to close the ‘digital divide’ that disproportionately excludes seniors.

Alongside tech-savvy volunteers, businesses, and councils, the charity has helped seniors navigate the online world.

Digital Seniors community manager Sarah Wright said the councils had been “very supportive” but thought a morning spent with the mayors would best illustrate the charity’s work.

Wright said there was a growing number of seniors requiring digital assistance.

Mayor Patterson was determined to solve Brian Marshall’s digital problem.

The combination of rapid digital change, increasingly online services, and pandemic-enforced isolation meant seniors were being excluded from their communities.

Wright said hub meetings in Wairarapa’s five centres and one-on-one house visits worked to combat this.

At Carterton’s hub, the mayors and deputy mayor were paired with a senior and a volunteer to help solve a specific digital conundrum.

Before work began, Beijen and Patterson reminisced about the pre-digital age.

Beijen said he learned to write code in the early 90s, while Patterson, arms stretched a metre wide, described the first computers she saw at work.

Both said they were reasonably confident with devices.

The youngest council member, Vergunst, thought being at the “tail-end of the millennial generation” was an advantage, but she also made a conscious effort to adopt new technology.

Beijen was seated with former Greytown mayor Richard Harding and Digital Senior volunteer Roger Fraser.

Harding, 100 next month, had just bought a new iphone12.

Despite neither being “Apple people”, Fraser and Beijen successfully enlarged the font.

Volunteer Roger Fraser said Harding was one of the most tech-savvy seniors he had met, but it was not the case for everyone.

He had connected a woman on the south coast “in desperate need”, to the Internet.

He said she now had a desktop and Skype and had made her first solo online payment. It was a proud moment, he said.

Wairarapa has the largest senior population per capita, and Digital Seniors has helped over 3000 navigate the digital world. Digital Seniors was one of three charities, including The Shift Foundation, and Te Toki Voyaging Trust – Waka Hourua selected for a crowdfunding drive with Help From Home.

The campaign launches on tomorrow.

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