Residents in the East Midlands developed rewarding new online habits as a result of lockdown, in a bid to remain socially active, learn new skills and stay healthy, changing the role the internet plays in their lives forever.

Being separated from friends and family during the COVID-19 lockdowns prompted people to turn to online tools to help stay in touch. New research has shown that, as a result, 87% of those living in the East Midlands felt connected with loved ones the same or even better than before lockdown, thanks to virtual apps. In fact, more than a quarter of respondents in the region would have felt lonely and 29% feel they would have been very isolated without the internet during lockdown. A further one fifth believe they would have lost contact with friends.

This ‘better connected’ trend is set to continue past lockdown. Almost a third of people living in the East Midlands said they would still use the internet to stay in touch with family and friends, even after lockdown restrictions are lifted. Coupled with the in-person experiences we will be allowed again, this new online behaviour is increasing the amount of contact we have with loved ones, no matter how far away they live.

The research into online behaviours by ultrafast broadband provider Gigaclear has shown that lockdown also caused a surge in upskilling. More than two fifths of those living in the East Midlands (44%) learnt a new skill online. From cooking and crafts to surprisingly practical skills such as building, mechanics and plumbing, the internet has been used to teach a wide variety of new things.

People also used the internet to try activities for the very first time. One in 10 took part in exercise classes during lockdown, which they had never done before in person, from the comfort of their own home. Nearly 10% of adults in the region started gardening. Even some traditionally ‘in person’ activities were taken up, such as book clubs, music classes, or joining organising committees, none of which had been done in person prior to lockdown.

For the many people in the East Midlands who shifted hobbies and pastimes online in a bid to keep them going, (including a couple of keen ‘jigsawers’), more than 83% were glad to be able to. One third felt it worked as well or even better than doing them in person. In fact, for some the online shift will remain permanent. The ever-popular lockdown quiz will continue online for more than one in 10, as will exercising (12%).

Only 13% of people living in the region said they will go back to doing everything in person once social distancing measures have been relaxed, with two fifths wanting to make even more aspects of their lives digital. Practical tasks such as banking and shopping will also remain online for two fifths who weren’t doing it that way before.

In fact, on average, 23% of East Midlands residents new online behaviour will now be a permanent feature of their lives.

The internet has also proved a lifeline for many in the region, in emotional ways as well as practical. Over one in five respondents would have worried about their mental health without the internet during lockdown. The same percentage would have felt incredibly anxious. Over two fifths would have been bored, and 14% feel they would have had to put their whole lives on hold.

This obvious reliance on the internet during the global pandemic has also shifted the perception of technology and its role in our lives. The research showed that for many people, the increased use of the internet over lockdown has fundamentally changed their attitude towards technology. They are more likely to use smart devices and do things online than they were before lockdown and are more comfortable using the internet.

Nick Rawlings, Chief Marketing Officer at Gigaclear, comments: “2020 has been an unprecedented year for the whole country. Spending lots of time at home has put a huge reliance on our internet, and without it, our financial, social and mental health struggles would have been significantly harder. We know that broadband is a platform for good, bringing families together, keeping people in work, and keeping us entertained. If we can take a few positives out of this bad situation, it is that as a country we are stronger and more resilient than we thought. Good internet access certainly plays a more vital role in our happiness and wellbeing than ever before.”

To find out more about Gigaclear and its ultrafast broadband, visit www.gigaclear.co.uk.