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Norfolk WIs seek funding for digital skills training to combat loneliness

PUBLISHED: 15:20 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 02 November 2017

Norfolk WI digital workshop led by Mary Dorrell. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk WI digital workshop led by Mary Dorrell. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

A drive to alleviate loneliness and rural isolation has led Norfolk’s WIs to seek funding for better digital skills training to help women stay connected online.

Norfolk WI digital workshop led by Mary Dorrell. Picture : ANTONY KELLY Norfolk WI digital workshop led by Mary Dorrell. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

The Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, which has a 5,000-strong membership across the county, wants to secure a grant of up to £25,000 from the Aviva Community Fund to buy new equipment, laptops, smartphones and tablets to update and enhance its training sessions.

The group’s submission says “digital exemption is particularly amplified in rural communities such as Norfolk” and this sense of isolation could be reduced if more people could shop online, talk face-to-face with family and friends, order repeat prescriptions, or access council services via the internet.

Wendy Adams, chairman of the board of trustees for the Norfolk Federation of WIs, said: “Ever since the WI was founded more than 100 years ago, education of women and girls has been enshrined in our constitution.

“We have gone down lots of different routes, but moving with the times, particularly in the digital age, we see a real need for this.

“We want to tie in with the WI resolution passed last year on alleviating loneliness.

“In a very rural area we recognise that some of our members, and other members of their communities, can feel quite isolated because of where they live, and the lack of transport facilities, and this is just another way of keeping in touch. Not the only way, but another way.

“The computers seem to be becoming more complicated and a lot of older people seem to be afraid of them. We are trying to demystify it to make sure they are aware it is all part of life and you can be really disadvantaged if you don’t have these skills.

“We need new equipment, but we have ladies within the organisation who are very skilled in this, so we can keep the training in-house and tailor the training to what our members want.

“It may be that they want to use Skype, or re-order a prescription, or order their supermarket shopping. In my case, my daughter Rachel lives in Australia, so I need to keep in contact with her.”

Education is a fundamental part of the century-old organisation, and while traditional skills like jam-making and knitting are still part of its time-honoured appeal, the use of digital technologies is seen as an increasingly important part of its modern training.

The federation also offers a number of educational bursaries, some for use in Norfolk and some to help with the cost of attending a course at the WI’s training base at Denman College, near Oxford.

The Aviva Community Fund encourages votes from friends, family and supporters for a wide range of submitted projects, with the selected finalists going forward to a judging panel who will award the funds.

Voting closes November 21. To vote, visit the Aviva Community Fund website.

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