Alan and Barbara Newton

Olympic cycling veteran pedals online skills for national Get Online Week

Octogenarian olympian Alan Newton, and his wife Barbara, are big fans of online life – and they’re two of the stars of this year’s Get Online Week campaign – encouraging people to get online and see how it can make life easier, cheaper, and more fun.

For Alan, 85, from Stockport, an Olympic medallist, getting online has been a way to stay connected to the cycling world – and to the Olympic alumni that mean so much to him.

He explains: “To be completely honest with you, at first I really just couldn’t be bothered with all this technology stuff. I was an electrician by trade, so computers were never really part of my working life. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, either.

“But then the Olympic Association stopped sending out their newsletter by post – you could only get it on email. So I decided that I’d better get an email address!”

Alan and wife Barbara, 83, are active members of their local community centre run by Start Point Community Learning Partnership. As a UK online centre, they run regular IT sessions, and were starting a special class introducing people to iPads and other tablets.

Barbara continues: “It was only supposed to be a six week course! But here we are still coming in week after week.”

“It’s been the longest and best ‘six weeks’ ever,” adds Alan. “At our age, you see, things sometimes take some hammering in!”

“Sometimes it does go in one ear and out the other,” admits Barbara, “which is why we’ve got to keep practicing! But we love it don’t we? We learn something new every week, something that refreshes us, or we haven’t seen or done before. You’d be amazed at the group we belong to, they really are lovely people. When we all come together on a Tuesday nearly everyone has come across a problem or issue, so we all sort it out together.”

“It’s very social,” agrees Alan. “We all have a nice lunch afterwards! Barbara and I are big believers in not sitting at home. Nine times of of ten every day we’re out and about doing something, and enjoying ourselves.”

“We do all sorts at the community centre,” continues Barbara. “From Tai Chi to seated yoga! And the iPad classes are another part it – connecting us to even more of our community.”

Now Alan has his own email address, and he’s keeping up with his Olympic club, and keeping on top of his correspondence as something of a local celebrity.

Alan explains: “l won my medal in Helsinki in 1952, for the 4,000m team pursuit cycling event. It was one of only 11 medals team GB bought home that year, so we did pretty well. Up until 2012, though, nobody apart from close family knew I’d won ever been to the Olympics! But then when we hosted the 2012 games it all came back out, and suddenly Stockport Council were asking me to carry the torch through Wellington Street!

“I had a stroke in 2002 and didn’t feel I could do myself justice running with the torch – besides, I thought that should really be for the children. I did go with the VIPs onto the Town Hall steps when it was coming through though. I thought ‘right, that’ll do me.’ It was wonderful.”

Since then, Alan has been asked to open a local bridge, and has even had a new cycle path named after him – the Alan Newton Way – which runs from Marple Hall High School through to Bredbury.

Barbra says: “The path is great because it’s so much safer for the children.”

Alan adds: “It’s encouraging young people to get on their bikes rather than buses and cars, and that’s got to be a good thing.”

Both Alan and Barbara are really tickled by their newfound fame, and they’re delighted with their newfound IT skills.

“People send us such lovely pictures on the iPad,” explains Barbara. “Whether it’s from the Greater Manchester Children’s Games or one of the other local events we’ve been part of, or even of the Helsinki games – it’s lovely to be able to be plugged into all of that.

“But it’s more than all the Olympic things – it’s all the other things you can find online too – like maps and news, and looking up train times and routes, and exploring hotels and holiday destinations. I use it to communicate with and organise the bowling team I belong to. There’s just so much that’s available and it’s given us so much more. It’s helped us spread – we’ve made so many friends and new connections, as well as dusting off old ones. It’s been most, most enjoyable.”

“We’d definitely recommend other people to get online this Get Online Week,” concludes Alan. “Especially people of our age! These iPads and tablets are much easier to use than computers, and you don’t know what you’re missing out on until you give them a go. If Barbara and I can do it, anyone can.”

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