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Been away a long while...

Age UK Internet Champion Awards Night - March 2013

... but I'm back. I won't even try to bring this site up to speed with all that's happened since I was last year. Just a few highlights: got married last September to an amazing, kind, gentle, wise man called Terry. 'The Fab 4' (my kids - the eldest 30, youngest 23) are all doing really great things and make me proud every second. Organising things with my husband for our neighbours, and getting involved in urban food-growing in our community garden. Running a lottery-funded social inclusion project that's really bringing people together and making some amazing friends. And the highlight...

I've just been 'crowned' Age UK Internet Champion. A little background to that. When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar just coming up to 6 years ago, I was suddenly (instead of teaching) in my flat, cooped up for months at a time and so scared and depressed. Lucky for me I wanted to get a grip on things and found my way to the excellent Bipolar UK (MDF: The Manic Depressive Fellowship at the time) and their excellent resources which included a 24-hour online forum. Found friends and helpful support and advice, put a load of energy into learning self-management. Three years of psychotherapy helped me unpick my past and find out who I was. And taught me not to be with toxic people any more, but to learn to love being alone with myself. AUTHENTICITY - that was the key word.

Having lost my salary and my home, I was fortunate enough to get a council flat on an over-50s sheltered housing scheme nearby, in an area of the city I knew quite well. That's where I met the man who's now my husband and came alongside him in his efforts to generate community spirit and therapeutic activities. At the heart of the social inclusion project is our IT Club, and its impact on people's lives has been phenomenal. That's why I came to win the award: they say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade - that's pretty much what I did.

It's a week and a half since I received my Age UK award, and my mind is buzzing with ideas about how to encourage other older people to learn/improve keyboard skills, IT skills, get internet-connected. Research shows there are two groups of older people: the digitally excluded (no opportunity) and the digitally dismissive (not interested/convinced) and the other Age UK Internet Champion, James Perry, and I are tasked with reaching out to both groups as what you could call 'peer advocates'. Looking forward to that.

I've just written my first blog for Age UK, and created the beginnings of a website: http://www.kingsheathringoffriends.com. I have to watch my health even more these days - I've lost a lot of resilience over the past 6 years - but I have my husband to help keep an eye on things, and some good friends to offer mutual encouragement.

This is proving to be quite a year. I wonder what comes next?!

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