We take it for granted that there is universal access to the internet, and many services have moved or are quickly moving to a wholly on-line environment, leaving those who can't get internet access at a great disadvantage. This migration will accelerate in the present tough economic climate, while provision of additional access is likely to suffer through lack of funding.

For many people of mature years, or on fixed or low incomes, the cost and technical complexity of their own internet access may be out of the question. Local alternatives like the library service, are not geared to the needs of people with no IT experience or skills, and are, in any case, under threat from public funding cuts.

NetBuddies brings together those who may be terrified of technology with helpers (Buddies) with modest skills and relevant experience of using computers and the internet. It operates in an environment with basic IT infrastructure to use the internet for finding information, on-line buying and selling, using booking facilities, finding job opportunities and communicating with friends, relatives, government departments and businesses.

NetBuddies leverages the concept of the Internet CafĂ©, by providing appropriate hardware and infrastructure, but takes it a stage further by providing mentoring and hand-holding for uninitiated users of the technology. It provides a non-threatening social environment likely to appeal to the groups that we see as the most likely to benefit from this initiative.

NetBuddies can easily be implemented to run alongside existing organisations who already touch our target groups, and therefore provide a natural, captive client base.

NetBuddies is designed around a loose aggregation of 'nodes' or branches to be a low-cost, easy to operate service with a high level of voluntary involvement, that can function with a small permanent staff and with minimal overheads. It can be started and operated within a local community by a single participant organisation, or a collection of like-minded individuals or groups, but is easy to replicate in other communities and geographic areas.