‘Role model’ Bob inspires staff at his local Centre and becomes a 2 Millionth Learner Award Winner

30 Jan 2017


When 85-year-old Bob Dunkerley suffered a stroke at his local Online Centre in Stockport, he soon realised that the support he receives there and the online world could be major lifelines for him. After learning more about his conditions and using the internet to improve his health, his positivity and ‘go get ‘em’ attitude soon rubbed off on the staff and volunteers at the Centre, who now consider him a ‘role model’ and an inspiration.

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Bob joined his local Online Centre, Starting Point, in 2015 after a friend mentioned the computer classes to him. Bob explains: “She just happened to mention that she was going to lessons with laptops. Before I retired, I went through five redundancies. I did everything from working in the coal mines to being an electrical engineer. None of my jobs required me to have digital skills. In fact, I was almost completely unaware of them. I never had any call to go online.

“When my friend told me about the classes I liked the sound of it, so I went up and had a word with the guys there and they invited me along to one of their sessions.”

When Bob first went along to the centre, his aim was to catch up with the digital world and learn how to connect with people. Bob had faced many barriers to getting online, but his main barrier, according to the team at Starting Point, was ‘not knowing what he didn’t know’.

Bob explains: “I’ve learned so much at the classes and I’ve really enjoyed it, but in the beginning, I really had no idea where to start. I didn’t know how to do an email, for instance, I didn't use Facebook and I’d never shopped online. I much preferred to just go out and do my shopping - I’m a bit old-fashioned that way.”

The team at Starting Point described Bob as a quiet and unassuming man, who didn’t realise just how much digital skills could change his life until his life was threatened. 

Bob explains: “I can remember quite vividly what happened. I was at Starting Point and I’d just been to the toilet. I was on my way back to my computer class, when I tried to open the bathroom door with my right hand, I just couldn’t move it. As soon as it happened, I knew what was wrong - I was having a stroke.” 

Bob managed to open the door with his other hand, approached his tutor Dave, and managed to mumble “Dave. Stroke”. 

“He sprung into action,” explains Bob. “He didn’t panic or anything. He got me into a chair, called 999 and while we waited everyone looked after me and made sure I was OK. I knew exactly what was going on - every second! It was very scary at the time.”

Following his stroke and a brief stint in hospital, Bob never lost his focus and he was back in class the week after he was discharged. Starting Point describe his attitude towards his recovery and his journey back to attending classes as “inspiring”. 

Bob says: “I’m that person in my family that does the things that no one else will try and I’ve always stood on my own two feet. My attitude towards illness is, if there’s anything wrong with me, I’ve got to fight it and get rid of it and push forward. That’s why I was determined to get back to class as soon as I could.”

One of the things Bob loves about the internet, is the fact that he can look things up and find out information at the touch of a button. Following his stroke, Bob was determined to find out more about his condition and health online. He says: “I wanted to find out what causes a stroke and why I’d had one. It turns out there’s no real justification as to why it happens. It can happen at any time to anyone and it’s more damaging to you than a heart attack can be. That made me think about my local shops and cafes. If I were to have a stroke there, would the staff know how to handle the situation? 

“I can’t find this out online, but I’ve read quite a bit about it and I now know a lot more about strokes and how to recognise it myself if I see it happening to someone else. I’m not saying I’d be able to do the first aid, simply because of my age. You need to be able to move fast, like the young ones. But anyone who can get training for it definitely should.”

Because of Bob, Starting Point made The Stroke Association their charity of the year in 2016 and all staff and volunteers have now undertaken awareness training. Bob says: “They all know now and realise how important it is to be able to handle a stroke. They’re such a great team - the perfect team in my eyes!”

Towards the end of 2016, Bob fell ill again following an operation to remove a tumor and a diagnosis of Vertigo and was unable to attend his classes, but he used the computer to keep in touch with people and pursue his hobbies to stop himself from becoming isolated, something which has massive health benefits in itself. 

Bob says: “I have a brother who lives in Kent and I send him emails. I also find myself regularly turning off the TV, turning on my laptop and listening to my favourite music on YouTube - brass bands and choral music! I look at photos of locations in Scotland on Google Maps and StreetView too. I love Scotland and because I can’t holiday there anymore, it’s nice to be able to see it. I know it sounds silly, but I even explore places I didn’t know existed before.

“Since my stroke I’ve lost a lot of confidence but the team at Starting Point boost my morale. If I’d never visited them, I wouldn’t be using a laptop, that’s for sure - just plodding along and I’d probably be on my own a lot of the time. I didn’t have many friends before, but since going there I’ve met a lot of people.”

Starting Point describe Bob as a role model to others who feel that they have too many barriers to getting online, more so than ever now he’s a 2 Millionth Learner Award Winner. 

Bob says: “I’ve never looked at myself as a role model by any means. I just like to help people and I’ve recommended the computer classes to a couple of my friends. It’s not just the skills that are helpful, it’s the companionship that you get from meeting others at the centre. 

“It’s a bit of a community that provides a great service for people who are a bit older and are on their own. I think that anyone who’s capable and willing enough to get online should do it. I get it wrong a lot myself, but I just keep trying and that’s what keeps me going.”