It’s hard to take many positives from the recent lockdowns; it was a tough time for everyone, for some more than others.
We’ve all been affected and each one of us has reacted – and been forced to react – in different ways.
But if nothing else, I think we’ve all got to know ourselves a little better during the last 18 months. We’ve realised our strengths and our weaknesses, and where we need a little extra support.
Perhaps above all, it’s shown us the value of being connected to one another; to family, friends and colleagues. Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone, and the pandemic shone a light on both the value and limitations of technology and digital skills in helping maintain those connections.
The latest Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index, the UK’s largest study of digital and financial lives, found that more than two thirds (68%) of Londoners – where I live – have spent more time on the internet since the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly nine out of 10 (86%) said that being online during lockdown helped them to connect better with friends and family, with more than two-thirds saying they wouldn’t have been able to cope without it.
It’s great that so many Londoners have used the internet to find ways to be more financially savvy, stay connected with others and manage their mental health – tangible benefits that being online can unlock.
But a sizeable number of people in the capital said they were still offline, and had not used a computer, tablet or smartphone in the last three months.
Even in a big global city, this will have made lockdown incredibly challenging for them, making it harder to stay in touch with the outside world, access services and manage their money. I dread to think how those living in more remote areas are managing.
Being locked out of the online world also means they will have had fewer opportunities to work flexibly and progress their careers.
It’s now more important than ever that no one feels cut off in this way due to a lack of skills, confidence or access. We cannot risk leaving people in our community behind. We need to recognise that they need a helping hand to make the most of the online opportunity – and to do it safely.
Realising real benefits
Practical support is out there. For over a year now, the Lloyds Bank Academy in London has been offering free live webinar sessions and a raft of online materials to help people, businesses and charities to improve their digital skills.
It’s all part of our commitment to helping Britain recover from the impact of the pandemic by supporting households to get their finances back on track, by working with businesses to help them recover, grow and play their role in creating a more inclusive society.
In the first 12 months, more than 500 Londoners attended 25 live interactive webinar sessions on topics including staying safe from fraud, creative collaboration and online marketing.
And more than 19,000 people across London accessed on-demand content through the online portal, covering everything from getting online for the first time to finding the best deals on utilities, applying for jobs or promoting a small business on social media.
It’s creating real benefits for people too.
Learning and connecting
Take Liigah Thrower, from south London, for example. In September 2020, she turned her passion for arts and crafts into a business, Vision of Craft.
She now helps art collectors find the perfect piece for their home, accompanying them as they visit galleries and auction houses and inspiring them about the contemporary art scene.
She has enjoyed five online Academy sessions.
Liigah said: “My business is still quite new, so I still have a lot to learn and would like to expand my knowledge and skills while also meeting new people.
“I want to learn and connect with others and, if I can take away at least one new skill or contact from each session that I attend, I’m grateful.
“I also really enjoy using different devices, whether that’s my phone, tablet or laptop, as most of my work during the pandemic was online.”
And Liigah isn’t alone – 95% of all users say they would recommend the classes.
Making connections online also helps to equip people with ‘soft skills’ like communication, teamwork and creativity, which can help them build confidence in both their personal and professional life.
The range of classes Lloyds Bank Academy offer has grown during lockdown, and it is now arming people with the kind of skills that can have an enduring and positive impact on their lives post pandemic.
Being connected, in every sense of the word, is a crucial part of who we all are and, as we slowly come out of the other side of this most challenging of times, my hope is that no one gets left behind on the road to recovery.
Simon Kenyon, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for London