Welcome to Cyberia, Britain's first cybercafe, where you can turn on, tune in and 'surf' the information superhighway.

The cafe concept, devised to make a computer environment less formidable, has been borrowed from California where 'surfing' - or hopping between global databanks - is commonplace.

Here in Whitfield Street, central London, over a cappuccino and an almond croissant, cognoscenti and novices alike can communicate with kindred spirits around the world.

Even people with scant technical knowledge will be able to access international databanks and pick up 'e-mail'.

The cafe, which opened over the weekend, will also offer an electronic dating service, a property noticeboard and free space for non-profit making organisations.

Its co-founders Ewa Pascoe and Gene Teare believe this is the first centre in Britain to offer public facilities to access the Internet, the worldwide network through which you can swap information and 'talk' . People can walk in, sit down at a screen and - with a little tuition from an in-house expert - join 30 million Internet users.

Whether they want a brief 'chat' with a friend in Chicago via e-mail (computer message services which transmit words, pictures and graphics between machines in seconds) or a detailed print-out of data downloaded from the library of Congress in Washington DC, Cyberia can deliver.

The cafe can also provide Internet users (or 'netties') with an electronic mailbox.

Six people can use the computers at a time and if the demand is as great as Ms Pascoe hopes, users will have to book slots to save queuing.

But she wants to go further than provide a room with computers and coffee to create a technology centre with a conscience.

In addition to being a cognitive psychologist, computer programmer and researcher of risk assessment software at City University, she particularly wants to encourage women. Angered and frustrated by the male domination of computer technology - only 4 per cent of Internet users in Britain are women - she wants to redress the balance, as well as offering environmental groups easy and cheap access to information.

'I believe in technology for women and for ecology. Women have got less access to hardware and they earn less so their ability to get involved in computers is lower from the start. And most of the technology is not applied to anything useful. Many male users think women on the Internet are bad news.'

Women were among the first to use the 'net'. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the system was employed widely by librarians, almost exclusively female.

Ms Pascoe said: 'I'm a business woman. I set up my own computer company in Poland developing banking software and this is really more of a hobby.

'But at the same time I feel strongly about this. I want to make this place into one which women will feel happy to use. Women are very behind with technology, we just have to create a peer group where they can learn from each other.'

She is building a creche and allowing students, the unemployed and low paid free use of the computers on Sundays between 12 and 3pm, when they will be able to scroll through on-screen lists of job advertisments.

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings her experts will run training programmes, some of which are reserved for women.

The Internet was started in America more than 20 years ago by the military. Later academics realised its potential. Personal use of it is growing and in the US it is particularly popular among the retired.

But in Britain there are only about 100,000 members, which Ms Pascoe hopes will change now Cyberia is open. 'Just you wait,' she said. 'This is going to change the way you live.'

(Photograph omitted)