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More than 80% of Brits rely on internet for local community involvement

Press release   •   Jun 16, 2016 12:03 BST

Boost for local businesses as 70% of people use internet to access services

New research from BT has today revealed that the internet is breathing new life into the UK’s community spirit, challenging the common perception that time spent online drives us apart.

Despite almost half (47 per cent) of people surveyed across the UK feeling that community spirit is lacking in their local area, the research shows that the majority of people in the UK rely on the internet to take advantage of a wide range of local services and businesses.

More than 80 per cent of people cited the internet’s importance in enabling involvement in their local community and providing access to information and services such as playgroups, social activities and other amenities. Furthermore, 70 per cent of respondents use the internet to access local businesses and services, providing a boost for local business owners.

The new findings add weight to the notion that access to the internet can build a stronger sense of community spirit and create a more inclusive society.

  • Almost half of the survey respondents (48 per cent) believe that lack of internet access leads to isolation
  • Almost two thirds (63 per cent) said that access to the internet empowers them to gain new experiences
  • Meanwhile, more than one in ten (12 per cent) of people across the UK use free wi-fi outside of their home as a way of getting out of the house and into the neighbourhood

In March 2015, BT and Barclays announced a partnership to launch an innovative community based programme to put free wi-fi and hands-on digital support into 100 libraries and other community sites in deprived areas across the UK.

The research shows that provision of free wi-fi in local libraries and community centres is effective in helping people who are most at risk of social exclusion, in both rural and urban communities, stay connected.

Thirty eight per cent of those surveyed said they use free wi-fi to find out local information, while a further 12 per cent of respondents said they have capitalised on free local educational services on offer, such as digital skills workshops. BT Digital Friends partner with Barclays Digital Eagles to provide free training and support sessions as part of the Wi-Fi in our community programme.

Graham Jones, internet behavioural psychologist, said: “We live in an increasingly online world. There is often a perception that this has led to a more fractured society, however this research actually proves that access to the internet is driving communities across the UK closer together. Online access clearly helps people foster more connections with local businesses and social activities in their neighbourhood.”

The internet was accessed every day, or almost every day, by 78 per cent of adults aged 16 and over in the UK in 2015, compared with 35 per cent in 2006[1]. However, while smartphone and home broadband usage is on the rise, research shows that 5.9 million adults are still facing barriers when using technology and getting online, and 11 per cent of adults in the UK have never used the internet[2].

Anna Easton, BT director of Sustainable Business, said: “Communities are built on individual connections. But too often today individuals feel isolated, by virtue of age, disability or lack of employment. For these people access to the internet can be life altering. It enables them to meet and connect with others, access local services such as housing support, schools admissions and GP services, and find out about local events. Facilitating these connections and building strong and resilient communities is the ultimate goal of BT’s partnership with Barclays.”

Elaine Draper, director of Accessibility and Inclusion at Barclays, said: “The BT and Barclays Wi-Fi in the community programme has seen huge success already, with a focus on training, development and up-skilling at its heart. Far from driving us apart, the internet has opened doors; from enabling us to stay in touch with loved ones, to making our lives easier and offering increased access to education or employment opportunities.

“At Barclays we are working to help make sure that no one is left behind on this digital journey and we believe in the power of digital in bringing people together, therefore both internet access and support with getting online is essential in our communities.”

Seventy-year-old Fran Willis, Swindon resident and grandmother to six, speaks of how she has benefited from the Wi-Fi in our community programme: “My four granddaughters live in New Zealand, so being able to stay connected with them means the world to me. I can go to my local library, somewhere which I’m familiar with already, and speak to friendly staff about how to use the internet. The free digital training sessions have taught me how to use Skype and WhatsApp so that I can feel more involved with my family’s life, even though they are on the other side of the world. Being able to physically see them makes me feel closer to them. Although using computers can sometimes be quite frightening, I’d encourage anyone to go along to their local library and speak to Barclays Digital Eagles, it is so easy and you get to meet a lot of friendly faces too!”

The BT and Barclays Wi-Fi in our community programme is helping to foster inclusive, digital neighbourhoods across the country. Free access to the internet is creating more opportunities for people in the UK to mix and meet and build a stronger sense of community spirit.

For more information, please contact the press office via bt_consumer@porternovelli.co.uk.

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Notes to editors

2,000 adults from across the UK participated in the study. The survey was drafted by BT and the data was outsourced and gathered via One Poll, an online research database which polled the respondents on our behalf. More detailed data points are available upon request.

About BT and Barclays Wi-Fi in our community

The BT and Barclays Wi-Fi in our community partnership reflects the long standing commitment from both companies to support communities, and to help those who can benefit most from being able to go online. Both organisations are signatories to the Government Digital Services Charter, and are committed to helping UK people and businesses to benefit from being digitally enabled.

BT has installed free wi-fi technology in to the selected sites. The wi-fi provided is supported by BT Wi-fi Protect, a service that filters inappropriate content and protects users and other from accessing sites listed as pornography or similar. People can bring in any wi-fi enabled device, or can use the library or other community site equipment. Once the wi-fi is installed and working, Barclays Digital Eagles and BT Digital Friends will provide hands-on support to help novice users to take their first steps online, and to assist those who have some knowledge to grow their skills and gain more from being online. Barclays offer digital sessions that support people from as young as five years old.

[1]ONS: Internet Access - Households and Individuals: 2015

[2]ONS: Internet users in the UK: 2016

About BT

BT’s purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world. It is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to its customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband, TV and internet products and services; and converged fixed-mobile products and services. BT consists of six customer-facing lines of business: Global Services, Business and Public Sector, Consumer, EE, Wholesale and Ventures, and Openreach.

For the year ended 31 March 2016, BT Group’s reported revenue was £19,042m with reported profit before taxation of £3,029m.

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