Brian Coan may have gone through education in an era before computers were commonplace, but his career as a chemist with a pharmaceuticals company ensured his knowledge developed as technology progressed.

He was aware that many people lacked that advantage, however, and realised all they really needed was a guiding hand. So, after his retirement, he decided to do something positive and help others learn the skills they needed.

That was 2017 and he joined a computer group, which met at Northallerton library. Though the pandemic inevitably meant it had to stop meeting, Brian continued volunteering to provide remote help through Citizens Online.

Since the end of lockdowns, he has returned as a formal IT Buddy at the library, helping to guide people with the skills they need to use the elements of computers and the internet that interest them.

Researching family history is a driving force for many, while others are keen to use the remote access computers offer for chores like shopping and banking.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the demand for IT Buddy services has increased since the pandemic, possibly because more people have recognised the convenience and value in being able both to conduct business and access entertainment online.

Brian said: “When I retired I had a bee in my bonnet because a lot of people, particularly older ones, said they couldn’t use computers because they were not bright enough. I knew that wasn’t the case and was determined to make myself available to at least help people learn the basics.

“Since lockdown, it has really got quite busy. The people who come are mainly older people, with some younger ones. I rely on people to tell me what they want to know about, some only want to use emails, others want to know about searching. Some people have a computer, but don’t know what to do with it. I take them through the basics. I get a lot of satisfaction from it,” he said.

While Brian has many taking up his offer of help on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at Northallerton library, there are also other options.

We are working in collaboration with Citizens Online and North Yorkshire’s district councils to tackle digital exclusion through localised partnerships with trained digital champions. It operates alongside the ReBoot scheme, which makes refurbished digital devices available to those who need them. Funding has come from a variety of sources, including our Stronger Communities team.

David Sanderson is among those to benefit from Brian’s help and said he would be going back for further sessions to brush up his skills. Although he owns a laptop and tablet, David has struggled to maintain online contact with friends in other parts of the world and was keen to improve his knowledge of emailing.

“I was told these one-to-one sessions were available so I went along and found it very interesting,” he said. “I am not into it and feel so left out, having to ask other people to do things. I will be going back; you are never too old to learn. I want to broaden my horizons from gardening and playing bridge.”

Digital skills and support to get online

If you or someone you know needs support with using technology or getting online, library IT buddies can help. Drop into your local library or call them to find out more. You can also get advice and support by calling the Citizens Online’s free digital support helpline on 0808 196 5883. Citizens Online can connect you with a trained digital champion and give you access to laptops and other digital devices.

Could you help make a difference in your community?

Libraries across North Yorkshire are looking for volunteers like Brian to help with a variety of duties, including IT support. Volunteers make a huge difference, and for young people in particular it’s a great way to get valuable experience for their CV. Find out more on our libraries volunteers page or by calling into your library.