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History: 2002 to 2013
SeniorNet Nelson celebrated its 20th Anniversary at a function held at the Annesbrook Community Centre on 15th October, 2013.
The following is an address by Duncan Fuller, delivered on that occasion.



Duncan FullerFor the first 10 years of SeniorNet Nelson, the emphasis was on teaching members how best to use the equipment they had. There were predominantly 8 or 16 hour courses. 4 lessons of 2 hours each or 8 lessons of 2 hours each.

There were no Workshops, Interest groups, Help and Practice sessions or Meet and Greet sessions. We taught in Microsoft operating systems. There were no Smartphones, iPods, iPads, digital cameras, tablets, very few laptops, no e-readers, or anything that many would almost regard as essential in today’s world. It is little wonder therefore that the last 10 years of SeniorNet Nelson’s existence have been quite different from the first 10 years.  I have no doubt that the next 10 years will be quite different again.

 I want to take you back to the new millennium….as the year ticked over from 1999 to 2000 when a great number of experts predicted that all computers would crash, and the world as we knew it would just about come to an end. Of course that didn’t happen. In fact, SeniorNet Nelson prospered because so many people were talking about computers. Pat and I were no different and both of us joined SeniorNet Nelson in January 2000.

 I had no idea what I was doing in my first class and to be fair I didn’t really want to be there. But I knew that I had to get in to the modern age so mostly Pat learned all about it and then taught me. Gradually, it began to make sense and in 2002 when SeniorNet was advertising for a Secretary, Pat convinced me I should apply as I had experience in that area. As Secretary, I quickly realised just how effective and beneficial this new concept of “Seniors teaching Seniors” was. From Secretary I became Chairman and then on the National Federation Committee and so on.

I initially wondered how to speak to you about these last 10 years. Should I go from year to year, or event to event or what? I decided that I should talk about the major events that have helped shape SeniorNet Nelson in the last 10 years or so. Events that have made us one of the top 10 Learning Centres in both membership and teaching hours, in NZ.

 To me, by far the most important event is the shift from St John’s Church in Hardy St in 2002. Although I was a member I wasn’t actually involved in the shift because it was not until later in the year that I became Secretary. There were several entries in the early minutes about the St John’s premises being too small, but the first mention I can find about actually moving was in November 2001. There was mention of SeniorNet Nelson moving to Founders Park. Whether the buildings there were unsuitable or the rent was too high or what, I do not know. Subsequent minutes regularly make reference to the need to have bigger and more suitable premises.

 Then, in April 2002, after looking at various buildings around the town a Heads of Agreement (the main terms of the lease like Rent, term of the lease, rent review periods etc) was drawn up for SeniorNet Nelson to move into the Nelson Underwater Club building in Pioneer Park.

 This was a far-sighted move by the then committee of SeniorNet Nelson. They probably did not realise just how much having our own hall would benefit SeniorNet Nelson in later years.  Pat and I have visited many SeniorNet Learning Centres around the country and we almost always come away realising just how fortunate Nelson is. Particularly to have a hall of our own so that we can hold meetings and interest groups at anytime. It also means that now with so many portable devices, we can hold two classes at the same time.

 In an interesting twist although the Heads of Agreement was signed in 2002, the actual Lease Document was not signed until 2005. This was mainly due to dealing with the Council, because the building is on Council land and we have a sub lease. In fact, the actual lease document was signed after the first rent review date had passed.  We wanted to get some return on the extra cost of shifting to Pioneer Park so we tried hiring out the hall. We tried some private functions but often cost us more than we got back because often the hall smelt like a brewery on Sunday morning. Needless to say, letting the hall out to private functions didn’t last long. Then in April 2005 we negotiated an acceptable hire charge with the Celebration Church. They still have the hall on Sunday mornings and Monday evenings and the rental income is a big help in off setting the cost of our premises.

Over the years we have struck a few problems:  we have had a golf ball through the window….a slug pellet through the window. (That was an interesting one because we noticed this neat round hole with a few cracks around it.  Didn’t ever get to the bottom of that.)

Another time we had some guy kick in a window in the Learning Centre. I think he had had an argument, got angry and our window happened to be closest. We got some money out of him but eventually gave up because it was such a hassle.

 One highlight was purchasing 80 stacka chairs for the hall from NMIT in September 2006. The chairs cost $10 each. We had them recovered last year at a cost of $40.00 each chair. 4 times the original purchase price. But they look great.

 One of the biggest difficulties for any SeniorNet Learning Centre is funding.  In  2003 we received an approach from Aoraki Polytechnic to ask if we would consider signing up with them to get some funding through a Tertiary Education scheme and we signed a formal agreement with them. Aoraki at that time was able to fund students outside their area – it is located in Timaru.

 We had excellent funding for a time but then changes were made by the Tertiary Education Commission. By then only 12 hour courses were being funded and there were now a lot of restrictions on the way we had to operate and a lot of paperwork involved.  This from the minutes in August 2005.  “Big concern about TEC funding through Aoraki Polytechnic. The Treasurer pointed out that without Aoraki or TEC funding the financial position of SeniorNet Nelson is uncertain.”

 We had got used to this extra funding. We needed to keep our equipment updated, we wanted to spend money upgrading our premises and so on. I want to stress that SeniorNet Nelson has never been short of money because we have always had good reserves. However, we did not want to use our reserves for operating costs.

 And then we thought we had found a way out. In February 2006, we had a meeting with NMIT here in Nelson. They could fund us but once again there were a lot of bureaucratic requirements. But we really didn’t have a choice. We went ahead with NMIT but really the writing was on the wall from the start. It became obvious that NMIT was not a long term solution.

 The Tertiary Education Commission wanted to make major changes. Everything was tightened up. All Regional Tertiary Education offices were closed and at the same time Telecom (our long term sponsor) was talking about withdrawing its support. Telecom sponsored two telephone lines and internet connection to each Learning Centre. But its most important sponsorship was that of the Telecom Ambassador, Grant Sidaway. That is, even though Grant worked almost exclusively for SeniorNet, he was actually paid by Telecom. Grant knew how beneficial SeniorNet was to the community and didn’t want to see it all go down the drain. On 31 March 2007 after 14 years, Telecom ceased sponsoring SeniorNet.

 Grant held meetings with TEC about funding and had meetings with Learning Centres all over the country. If we formed a National Federation, TEC would fund us directly, not through another tertiary institution. In October 2006 SeniorNet Nelson agreed to be part of the NZ Federation of SeniorNet Societies Inc. There were to be 8 regions throughout NZ. I was elected as committee member from the Top of the South region.

 Perhaps, once again, our funding was secure!!     

Well no.  Not exactly.

 TEC had indicated that the Federation would be likely to receive about $1,000,000 in direct funding in 2007.  They received $200,000 late in 2006 but that was tagged to Learning Centres who had not received any TEC funding from any other source. That meant that as we had received money through NMIT we were not eligible for anything extra.

 The only other money SeniorNet Federation received from TEC in 2007 was another $161,000. A far cry from the $1,000,000 we had expected. Learner hour rates were cut but we all survived although I remember some very anxious times as a Federation committee representative because at times we did not know if we could continue to employ our Executive Officer, Grant Sidaway. The Federation now has a stable relationship with TEC and receives annual funding of around $400,000 per year which of course is passed down to the Learning Centres throughout NZ.

 As I mentioned earlier one of the biggest changes in the last 10 years is what we teach and how we do it. The first major change took place in 2003. We noticed from a Hawkes Bay newsletter that they were running “short courses” We now call them (2 hour) Workshops. SeniorNet Nelson’s course enrolments were down mainly due to the tutors not wanting to commit themselves to 6-week courses. As Secretary, I was asked to investigate this new idea.

 It seems unbelievable to us now, that we didn’t have workshops right from the start. I clearly remember telephoning the Course Co-ordinator at SeniorNet Hawkes Bay one evening and asking if she would send some notes down to us.  The cost was $50 for the set but we did not know exactly what the set consisted of. However, we eventually received the notes and started teaching workshops.

A subsequent note in the minutes noted that “While bookings are still quiet for longer courses, short courses are proving to be very popular.” In July 2003 we introduced another significant change. We went from terms to courses on demand.

 We subsequently went further when we introduced a new database system in 2008. Instead of one person taking all the course bookings, the first point of contact would be the tutor for that course. We also changed the whole payment method so that instead of class participants paying in advance they now had to pay on the first day of the course.

 The other major change was that everybody was given an identity number. When someone phoned to book for a course one of the first questions they were asked “What is your number” We had to do it that way mainly due to the new SNAP database but also because we had got so big that we needed to identify people better. The latest Membership number we have issued is 1150 so about 500 people have joined SeniorNet Nelson in the past 5 years. Over that period our membership has grown from around 400 in 2008 to about 625 today.

 These measures meant that we had a lot more course enrolments. We made it as easy as possible to enrol and pay for a course or workshop. In fact, we had so much demand that in February 2009 we changed from 2 courses a day to 3 courses a day in the Learning Centre.

 Another significant change was the introduction of Interest groups. We knew that Motueka had both a Genealogy and a Digital Interest Group and Pat and some others had regularly visited and taken part in these groups. Motueka were very lucky to have Prinia Riordon as the convenor of both these groups.

 In March 2006 SeniorNet Nelson held its first Digital Imagery group meeting. Maureen Hutton from Motueka, now President of SeniorNet Motueka came over and showed us how to put a power point slideshow together.

 The DIG Special Interest group was immediately a great success and since then we have added a Mac Interest group in May 2010, Technical Interest group in February 2011, then an iPad Interest group and just recently an Android Interest group.

 You may be interested to hear about a report in the May 2006 newsletter. This was just after the DIG group was formed.   This is what the report said. “Flash drives are rapidly replacing floppy disks. They are relatively inexpensive. 128 MB for $25-$40.00”.  I think the 8GB flash drive I brought recently, cost about $8.00.

 In February 2009 we tried a Help and Practise session. These became so popular with both tutors and members that they soon became a permanent fixture. In 2010 it was reported that “a noticeable trend is the number of members bringing their Laptops to the Help sessions.”

 In May 2010 we commenced courses using Apple Mac computers. We had received many enquiries over the years from Mac users and had to turn them away. The growing popularity of Macs and the arrival of Lindsay Hunter with his Mac expertise decided the committee that we should purchase some Mac computers. One iMac and 4 mini Macs were purchased and classes began.

 Throughout the history of SeniorNet Nelson there has been one constant comment. This comment is repeated so often in the minutes over the years, that it would be difficult to count how many times it has appeared.

 “The shortage of Lead tutors is making it difficult to schedule as many courses as we would like to”. OR “We have many assistant tutors but we would like to have many more Lead tutors”. Not much is new.  We talked about this very same problem at our Tutors’ meeting late last month.

 What about this gem, in a footnote to the AGM minutes in August 2003.

 “Grant Sidaway gave his usual entertaining and knowledgeable address. His topic was “Technology in the modern age”. His main theme was “Don’t wait forever to buy equipment just because things are changing. JUST DO IT”

 Does that sound familiar?  I have the feeling that I have heard Grant say that a few times over the years and I guess it is just as true today as it was in 2003.

 Another quote from the minutes. This was also in 2003. “We should make more use of email as a form of correspondence.”

 It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Many of our members didn’t have email in 2003 and most of us in those days had Dial-Up, which was often very slow. If we emailed a newsletter for instance it could take forever to go through and tie up the ‘phone lines. But later we did make use of email to the extent that we now only use email as a form of correspondence.

 I have not talked about Learning Centre equipment because it is not my area of expertise and we were constantly replacing it anyway.

 The other area I have shied away from is to talk about the people involved in SeniorNet Nelson over the years. There have been so many that I could not possibly do justice to them all. Without the tutors we could not have courses or classes, without the committee we would have had no organisation. And so many of you have worked so tirelessly behind the scenes, never seeking any attention or limelight. I thank you all because collectively you have made SeniorNet Nelson what it is today.

However, before I finish I want to make one exception to that. There is one person that stands head and shoulders above anyone else in the history of SeniorNet Nelson.

 That person is Graeme Valpy.  Graeme joined SeniorNet Nelson soon after it was formed in 1993. He very soon became Vice-Chairman and although we have him down as Chairman in 1996/7 and 1997/8 he was actually Acting Chairman for much of 1995 as well. He has filled many positions since as a committee member, particularly in the area of Tutoring and Course management. He was made a Life Member in 2001.

 Apart from perhaps the first year or so, in the 20 years SeniorNet Nelson has been operating Graeme has never been off Committee.

 However, his greatest strength is in the maintenance of our computers and equipment. In 2008 we upgraded all our computers. We had problems and Graeme virtually lived at the Learning Centre. There is a note in the minutes that mentions that we must relieve Graeme of some of his responsibilities. We tried, but you can’t keep a good man down and when I talked again to Graeme, about a week ago, about the amount he was doing for SeniorNet Nelson, he said, “Yes, I remember both you and Roger Thomas telling me the same thing a few years ago”.

 When we wanted someone to be convenor of the 20th Anniversary committee it was Graeme again who stepped up to the plate.

I also want to publicly acknowledge the part that Graeme’s wife Lois has played in this. Apart from the incessant phone calls to him, (we now try to email him as much as possible) she has largely been a SeniorNet widow. Lois herself is a past Secretary of SeniorNet Nelson. Thank you, Lois for allowing us the benefit of Graeme’s expertise, experience and wisdom over all these years.

 No one has done or could have done more for SeniorNet Nelson than Graeme Valpy. I am sure that you will want to join me in paying tribute to a very special person.

 How will the next 10 years pan out? It is impossible to say of course but one thing is sure - the pace of change will not diminish.  SeniorNet may not need to have much equipment because most of it will be portable and members will bring their own. We will be teaching to a new generation of Seniors - much more knowledgeable about technology than most of us have been.

 One thing is certain, we will need good leadership and we will need to adapt quickly to the challenges that will face us.

 SeniorNet Nelson has over 600 members and at present is in very good heart. Some of the newer members must step up and take responsibility if we want to still be here in 10 years time.

 I am certain with the right leadership we will rise to the challenge.

 Duncan Fuller
15th October, 2013