How organisation leader Heather works to give seniors tech confidence

With many older computer users short of general tech experience, SeniorNet head Heather Newell is striving to give members a way to connect in different ways.

SeniorNet Executive Officer Heather Newell says that when it comes to technology not every senior citizen is created equal. Through her involvement with the organisation's 50-plus learning centres, she knows that, "Someone over 80 may never have used technology, whereas someone aged 65 was probably using a computer at work.

"But every survey lumps them together!" she says. "When I see this, I write and let them know it's not good enough."

Heather, 62, took the reins at SeniorNet two years ago and brings with her a fresh perspective and vast experience in fundraising for non-profits.

When Covid arrived, she realised SeniorNet needed to add a virtual offering.

"Google approached us to ask how they could help seniors keep in touch during the lockdowns. So we developed Senior Hangouts, our virtual platform.

Senior Hangouts is a regular online meeting and tech talk.

"People join regardless of the topic because they love it so much," says Heather.

The 30-minute talks, usually presented by a group member or an expert from a sponsor, cover a wide range of subjects from photography and genealogy to scams and drones.

"Question time is usually when we often discover we need to go deeper," says Heather. "A recent talk about using an app for your loyalty store cards begged the question of what happens to the data. So we did a follow-up on privacy, the value of data and how to protect your information.

"Everything we do is about giving people confidence and trust online."

When she's not in the office, Heather is usually in the horse paddock.

"When my son was little, I decided I wanted to be confident riding a horse and we went to lessons for four years," she says. "It's our thing. I bought a pony for my son, and then that mare had a foal and someone suggested I buy a horse for me. So now we have three."

Heather values helping people through her work. And she says this is true of SeniorNet's sponsors, like AMI, too.

Heather feels that digital inclusion (access to technology) and digital exclusion (lack of access due to a rural location, poverty or lack of confidence) are hot topics.

"Right now, people can't live without technology. Whereas 10-15 years ago it was nice to have, now it's an essential. In this two-year period, we've seen cheques disappear. Ahead is a cashless society."

Heather says SeniorNet needs to ensure it can deliver the right assistance to its members.

"This is our moment."

* AMI will pay the 12-month SeniorNet membership fee for any AMI customer over the age of 50 that joins before September 2022. Simply mention you are an AMI customer at your local SeniorNet Learning Centre and AMI will take care of the rest.