THESE days we spend more time on our smartphones than talking to our neighbours.

Technology and the internet is an inescapably huge part of all of our lives.

But imagine what life is like for those who don't know their iOS from their Android.

You can become isolated and lonely, not to mention financially disadvantaged if you're unable to pick up online bargains.

This is where Colchester Council's Digital Access Support Team comes in.

Working with Tendring Council and the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the team provides drop in sessions and one to one support across both areas.

Manager Rachaelle Litwin said: "I was brought in August 2018. At that point they were just hosting a few community activities where members of the public were coming in to certain locations with their devices and asking for advice.

"By November 2018 Tendring came on board and we integrated with the North East Essex CCG. Now as a partnership we are going out into the community more."

The team has grown so substantially it now cannot offer enough one to one slots in order to meet demand.

Ms Litwin said: "It is a service provided to anyone no matter the circumstances and no matter what technology they have.

"It could be someone who got an iPad for Christmas and doesn't know how to use it. We will show them what to do for whatever they want to use it for.

"We work with a variety of different individuals. The majority are 55 plus but that does not mean we have not served young than that before."

The partnership has also begun installing digital access points at strategic locations like doctors surgeries, sheltered housing schemes and the like.

Each device has a fixed number of options for users, each pointing to a useful bit of information or a handy website link .

Ms Litwin said: "We have such a breadth of important information at our fingertips to pass on to people."

The team is also leading a drive to get more people signed up and using the NHS app, which apparently will be our first point of call to access for primary care in the future.

It hopes to alleviate some pressure on surgeries by signposting to advice and support and letting patients book appointments on their smartphones.

As well as telling you to sign up, the Digital Access Support Team will show you how to use it.

Ms Litwin said: "Most medical services you will need going forward will come through the NHS app.

"You can go on there, register with your doctors, book appointments etc. People can use the app 24/7 whilst a doctors surgery may be shut outside normal hours."

Research from the Office of National Statistics, the National Housing Federation and the Tinder Foundation shows being offline can cost people an estimated £560 a year.

And if you can't shop around or change your energy supplier, it is easy to see how this figure adds up.

Using this estimate the Digital Access Support Team think they've helped save the 2,067 residents they've helped since June 2017 £1,157,520.

But Ms Litwin is keen to press the fact the scheme is not run for financial benefits.

She said: "The best thing is the relationships which come out of it, not just for the people but for everybody involved.

"We had three ladies come in a few weeks ago who are now great friends. I get a right buzz out of them keeping that friendship going.

"We get some wonderful feedback from people. Those things mean more to me than anything else."

Andrea Luxford Vaughan, Colchester Council's customers boss, said: "The service they provide is a great example of collaborative working between boroughs and the work they do is crucial in making sure residents do not get left behind in an increasingly digital age.

"I would encourage any resident with a digital query, whether large or small, to contact the Digital Access Team, or to attend one of the events they regularly hold.”

Joy Broderick, Tendring Council's independent living boss, added: “The Digital Access Team is a fantastic asset to both Tendring and Colchester, helping to get residents online – and in doing so reducing social isolation and improving independent living.”

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