From vintage Imperial typewriters to digital inclusion via Zoom

Vintage typewriters met modern computers in a digital inclusion event beamed out live from Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.
The city’s collection of classic typewriters was utilised as part of a digital inclusion event to develop the digital engagement of a group of ‘digitally excluded’ people aged 60 and above.

Josie typewriter

The event is part of an ongoing programme of digital inclusion research by Associate Professor Dr. Josie Barnard from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). Dr Barnard initiated and led the online session live from Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, because research shows that digital upskilling can be delivered more effectively in trusted community environments.

The participants are regulars of community, health and inclusion ‘Zoom’ projects run by Friday Chidlow and Bharti Mistry for Leicester Ageing Together. The participants – who were forced online by Covid lockdowns -  can connect via Zoom, but some find the Zoom ‘chat’ function difficult, for example, or don’t have email addresses.
By demonstrating the value for ‘digitally excluded’ citizens of recalling technological challenges faced in the past (experiences that may be applied in new situations), through a session on the history of Imperial typewriters, Barnard’s theories were applied to help new technologies feel more ‘relatable’ to participants.
Activities included a talk from Dr Barnard and Heather Southorn, the Museums Collection Manager, on the history of typewriters. Among machines shown were the first commercial typewriter, the first successful commercial typewriter, an unusual ‘upstriking’ model and a classic Imperial typewriter.  These helped remind participants that all technology was once new, even a typewriter.  
Also discussed at the event, illustrated with online archive pictures from LeicestershireLive, was the 1974 Imperial Factory strike.  These stories were presented to help ‘humanise’ technical challenges that can feel alienating.
The hosts were joined on Zoom by Professor of Computing Christine Goutrié, from the Weissensee School of Art and Design in Berlin, who co-designed a key element of the activity with Dr Barnard.

Dr Barnard, Associate Professor in Creative Writing at DMU, has pioneered research into the role of creativity in enabling digital upskilling that lasts in an age of fast-paced technological change.

She said: “Equipment alone does not enable digital inclusion, even technical skills are not enough because they can quickly become obsolete.  Creative flexibility is key. The activity with the typewriters triggered a lot of memories, such as the peculiarities of learning to touch-type and the clunkiness of old comptator adding machines.

"We had some wonderful responses, with participants talking of gaining confidence in their capacity to do things they might not have otherwise attempted.  As well as empowerment, there was excitement amongst participants to see how reminiscing can affect creativity.  It was great to see participants developing “digital reflexivity”, embracing the kind of curiosity and experimentation that can result in more meaningful and sustainable digital engagement."

A total of 25 people from Leicester Ageing Together (LAT) participated in the session, joining remotely through Zoom. The event was part of a research study funded by DMU’s Research and Scholarship Support Scheme, which provided a Research Assistant, Charlene Lee.

It was supported by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP), which launched its Digital Skills Partnership in the Autumn with the aim of developing the digitally skilled workforce needed by employers.

The partnership has since brought together more than 60 local partners from the public, private, voluntary and academic sectors. Together they are working on various projects to address common issues including digital literacy, training and digital poverty.

Stewart Smith, the LLEP’s Head of Skills and Employment, said: “Inclusivity is one of the four pillars of our Economic Growth Strategy and, by working with community groups to improve basic skills, we are increasing our ability to bridge the digital divide.”

•    Learn more about the support available to businesses around digital skills and training, go to the Business Gateway Growth Hub website at or email Stewart Smith at

Posted on Friday 11 March 2022

  Search news archive