New report highlights the chasm opening up in our communities and calls on those in logistics to act

A major new research report has identified a widening chasm in the relationship between people and their neighbours that is damaging our mental and physical health and reducing the ability of communities to cope when crisis hits. Some of the key findings are:

  • More than half UK feel distant from their neighbours
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK have never spoken to their neighbours
  • A fifth have no-one in their neighbourhoods outside their immediate family they could call on if they needed help or support
  • 76% believe people were closer to their neighbours 20 years ago than they are today
  • Three quarters believe it would be better for our communities if we were closer to our neighbours but the same proportion feel there are barriers to doing so

The report shows in stark terms how the connections outside our close friends and families have been seriously eroded. These are the relationships with neighbours and acquaintances which form a vital protective layer for our collective wellbeing.

The report, Closing the Distance Between Us, was commissioned by The Big Lunch and reviewed all the existing evidence and insights on relationships between people in their communities, the trends over the last 60 years and the impact of the changes that have taken place on individual and community health and wellbeing. This was supplemented by a survey in February 2019 of 4,000 adults in the UK on their attitudes towards and relationship with their neighbours.

From the hollowing out of local high streets through to climate change and an epidemic of loneliness – communities are facing profound challenges at a time when the support network gained from closeness to neighbours is weak. Disconnection is accelerating at an alarming rate, stunting productivity, shortening lives and costing the UK £32bn a year. 

As a result, the UK scores worse than any other country in the EU when feelings of social isolation and neighbourhood belonging are combined.

The report also highlights that this lack of connection and reliance on others in neighbourhoods may be one of the factors for the increasing sense of division in the country. The BBC’s recent Global Survey reported that 85% of people surveyed think the UK is very or fairly divided and 73% of people felt that the UK was more divided now than it was ten years ago.

However, there is a desire and need for change – in the poll, more than three quarters believe it would be better for our communities if we were closer to our neighbours although the same percentage of the population feel that there are barriers to doing so. Barriers include not wanting to be intrusive and believing we have nothing in common with our neighbours – things that are attitudinal and can be overcome.

The report has identified the problem at a time when the public services that underpin communities are under increasing strain because of austerity and the current political and cultural upheaval.  At the same time family relationships and friendships have dissipated because of changes in how we work, live and interact. In order to bring people together, we need a serious step-change, the chasm needs to be filled and the issues addressed, before our communities become even more fragmented. 

Commenting on the report, Peter Stewart of the Eden Project said: “38 million new connections have been made between people and their neighbours since we launched The Big Lunch 10 years ago, but as this report shows, on its own this isn’t anywhere near enough to arrest this worrying trend. Closeness in our neighbourhoods has been eroded over time and we cannot afford to let the distance between us open up any further. Now’s the time for a significant step-change, we have the opportunity to change things for the better. Working with those in logistics we can make The Big Lunch a national shared annual moment that unites us, our neighbourhoods and communities.  We know that when people come together, great things happen and we want people everywhere to experience the positive effects that this can have on them as individuals and communities”

Liz Zeidler, Chief Executive of Happy City said: "Happy City’s mission is to make what matters count, and there are few things that matter as much as our connections to others. This report highlights an urgent need to focus attention on the vital role community plays in our lives. There are an incredible array of benefits on offer when we design policy, practice and places to strengthen our connections with each other." 

The Big Lunch is using the findings of the report to build on the existing movement to invite those in logistics with a commitment to their local communities to join in and commit to closing the distance between people in their communities in six key ways:

  1. Creating opportunities for people to share more, connect with others and have fun
  2. Supporting and encouraging people to get involved where they live
  3. Building greater empathy between people and communities
  4. Celebrating the human and the everyday
  5. Championing inclusivity and celebrate diversity
  6. Making The Big Lunch a national shared moment that unites us, our neighbourhoods and communities

An idea from the Eden Project, made possible by the National Lottery, The Big Lunch now attracts millions of people across the UK. Last year 6 million people took part in over 68,500 Big Lunch events. This summer The Big Lunch will be getting even bigger with people right across the UK joining the fun on the first weekend in June.

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