Digital skills helps South London grandmother get life back on track

31 Jan 2017

A grandmother of two from South London has overcome alcohol addiction and depression, gained new skills and transformed her life and that of her family - thanks to her local Online Centre and Learn My Way.


Margaret McDonald, 55, was diagnosed with alcoholism after a visit to her doctor. She tells us: “I went to see the doctors with shaking hands and it never occurred to me I had a drinking problem because I was functional and able to work - but after he realised how much I drank, it was clear to the doctor I was an alcoholic.”

Margaret, who lives with her daughter and two grandchildren, explains: “I was referred to a local charity that helped me wean myself off the drink. By the time I’d spent a year with them, I’d given up alcohol. But I’d had to give up work to keep up with my treatment and I was suffering from terrible depression.

“I was a complete wreck, both physically and mentally. I felt like I was of no use to anyone -  including my family. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be alive anymore.”

It was at this point that Margaret was referred to the Reintegration and Aftercare Lewisham Service (ReAL), managed by the charity Blenheim, and a member of the Online Centres network.  

Margaret continues: “The team at Blenheim gave me so much support. They helped me start taking control of my own future, and one of the first steps was making sure I knew how to use a computer and the internet.

“Before I gave up work, I’d mainly had roles in security - so I never used a computer in my job, and they just weren’t around at all when I was at school. When they first took me into their computer room, I didn’t even know which button turned the computer on.”

Needing to start from the very beginning, Margaret was introduced to the Learn My Way website, to learn the basics of computer use and getting online.

Margaret tells us: “Learn My Way was absolutely fabulous! It started with the basics, which was exactly what I needed. It explained all the jargon, it showed me how to search, it helped me get my first email address.

“With the audio on the courses, it meant I could hear what it was telling me to do at the same time as it was showing me what to do, which was perfect.

“The other thing it gave me was something to focus on while I was still really struggling with my addiction and depression. Having something to concentrate on and being able to use my brain kept me focussed on moving forward and keeping myself headed in the right direction.”

And once Margaret had started getting to grips with the basics, she never looked back. “It took me a few months but the more confident I got, the more I was able to do online,” says Margaret. “I could do my shopping online and sort out things with the doctors. It helped me with my reading and writing, and I started to feel independent and in control again.”

After all the help she’s received, Margaret’s now using her skills to contribute in any way she can. She explains: “Now I just want to help others and give something good back, you know? I’ve got disabled neighbours who are on their own, so I’m using my skills to help them with things like shopping and doctor’s appointments.

“My next step is getting an IT qualification so I can prove that I’ve got all these new skills and so I’m really ready to get back into the workplace.”

For Margaret however, the biggest changes she’s seen in her life are personal. “Without Blenheim and them getting me online with Learn My Way, I’ve no idea where I’d be now. There’s not a chance in hell that I’d be the person that people are coming to for help.

“It helped keep me on track and turn my life around, and that means that my daughter doesn’t want to find somewhere else to live, it means both of my kids feel like they can come to me for help and advice, and it means that I can sit and play - at the computer! - with my grandchildren.

“The help I was given and the new skills I’ve gained have changed my life. They’ve given me life. They’ve brought my family back together, made them proud of me. They’ve made me proud of myself. For that, I can’t say thank you enough.”