On the Ground: Citizens Online

Tania Mason

Scheme: Everybodyonline

Objective: To increase access to computers and the internet in disadvantaged communities

Funding: £100,000 per region per year provided by Microsoft and BT

Janet Brooks' 11-year-old daughter uses the internet regularly at school, but Janet had not laid eyes upon the worldwide web until two weeks ago.

She does not own a computer, having been put off by stories of system-crippling viruses and internet content unsuitable for 11-year-old eyes.

Janet is effectively a digital outcast - part of the 47 per cent of the UK population that does not have internet access, according to the Office of National Statistics.

However, this may be about to change following a pilot scheme last month at her daughter's secondary school, the Archbishop Lanfranc in Croydon, south London. Janet took her first tentative steps onto the information superhighway at a workshop called Families Back to School, set up by Ray Cortis, projects officer at digital inclusion charity Citizens Online.

She learned how to log on and use a search engine and, at the end of 90 minutes, Janet was starting to accept that the benefits might outweigh its risks. "I think I need to go and do a proper course and learn a bit more about it," she said.

This was another small victory for Cortis and Catherine Maxwell, the projects director of Citizens Online.

"Most of the barriers are about confidence," said Maxwell. "We can signpost people to more formal training once they get their confidence up."

Such training can be in language and literacy skills as well as computer use. Maxwell described the charity as a facilitator, saying: "We don't run training centres ourselves or turn up with a lorryload of laptops - but we know a man who does."

The Families Back to School event was part of the charity's Everybodyonline project, supported by BT and Microsoft. Eight such initiatives have been set up around the UK since 2002. They bring parents and grandparents along to their children's school to let them use the internet, assisted by staff and volunteers from Citizens Online and affiliated organisations.

The workshops are augmented by a network of other services in the locality.

"We go to where the people are - post offices, community centres," said Maxwell. "Some project officers even take laptops into pubs. We use subjects such as football or gardening to hook people onto the net in a way that interests them."

Research shows the project works - web use has risen by up to 14 per cent in areas that have an Everybodyonline scheme, compared with the average national increase of 2 per cent.

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