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Age Concern project aims to put silver surfers online

LONDON - Age Concern has this week launched its first Silver Surfer Festival, a month long promotion designed to encourage more older people to sample the internet.

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A campaign of national and local publicity will invite pensioners to turn up at their local Age Concern offices and drop in centres for a free guided tour of the web.

The sessions will be run by older people and designed to provide a friendly, social environment. Silver surfers will be shown how to trace family history, find out what's on locally, research and book travel and communicate with friends.

The campaign, which runs until June 6, is designed to counter the fact that although 62% of the UK population has used the internet, only 15% of those aged 65 and over have tried it.

The festival is being supported by Microsoft, Cable & Wireless and the government web promotion scheme UK Online. Sponsorship money has enabled the charity to set up ten new web-tasting projects across the UK, including one in the Orkney Islands. Of the 100 Age Concern locations offering internet access, 75 will be participating in the festival.

Many are existing projects and will continue to provide access on an ongoing basis. In addition the charity runs four specially designed Computer Explorer Buses that provide free IT training for older people and their carers.

One pensioner introduced to the internet by Age Concern is 62-year-old Terry Pearson, who is paralysed from the neck down and visits the explorer bus in his wheelchair. Usually dependent on others for his social life and shopping, Pearson uses the internet to buy online and contact others from the disabled community. He has been inspired to buy a PC of his own.

"My two sons are surprised that I have taken to computers so easily," said Pearson. "I was apprehensive before I tried, but using a computer to look up websites and contact friends is easier than you think."

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