This week, David Cameron agreed with the charity Friends of the Elderly who said more needed to be done to get older people online so they are able to pay bills, shop and communicate through the internet in order to avoid isolation and loneliness.
According to the charity, 703,000 (10pc) of older people will still not have a mobile phone or use the internet by 2030.
ACRE is no stranger to helping to meet the needs of older people who want to get online through our network of rural community support agencies across England. But there’s more to be done – and where better to start than at the heart of any community; the village hall.
Having worked with ACRE’s network of village hall advisers for the past 15 years, I’ve seen at first hand the value of a village hall to its community and the role it can play in reducing isolation and loneliness by providing a range of activities and services.
During the period leading up to the Millennium, a number of England’s 10,000 village halls installed a telephone line in readiness for the arrival of the 21st Century and the revolution that was social media.
More than a decade later, rural communities are still struggling to obtain fast broadband speeds and there is a piecemeal approach across rural counties to solving the problems.
ACRE’s recent sample of 1,300 village halls indicated that only 25pc had a broadband connection, with a mixture of commercial and domestic tariffs.
The Government needs to keep its commitment to get broadband into rural areas, but providers need to get their act together and use rural village halls to install wi-fi hubs and masts for use by local residents, businesses and farmers - not forgetting the design of a tariff suitable for community buildings.
Village halls will then be equipped with the means of connection and could provide access to the necessary equipment and expertise if needed. At the same time, a visit to the village hall can mean an opportunity to have a cup of tea and chat with neighbours – plus the chance to pay bills and use social media to share news with children and grandchildren.
So which internet provider will step forward and come to the rescue of all village halls so that we can help older people get online and beat loneliness – sooner rather than later?