Not so long ago Britain prided itself on neighbourhoods where everybody chatted over their garden fence and left their back doors open.
Today, life couldn’t be any more different. Recent research has revealed that more than half of us don’t even know the people next door and communities are now more fractured than ever before.
But a Tonight investigation has revealed that many of us would like to live on a friendly street. 57% of people said they’d would like to get to know their neighbours better and 62% want to feel part of their local community. However because of our transient lives, longer working hours and technology which can be isolating, lots of us simply don’t know our neighbours.
One example of this is Uplands Aveune in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire. Like many streets across Britain, this is a place where very few people - if any - really know their neighbours.
Chelsey and Chris Bayliss have lived on Uplands Avenue for three years - they contacted the Tonight programme and told us they would like to know their neighbours better.
After chatting to some of the other residents it became clear they were a sociable bunch, they just needed a reason to get together so we decided to hold a tea party and invited everyone along.
Amongst them was the Rodaway family, whose eldest son Ethan is very poorly with a genetic liver condition. His future is uncertain and the family have been juggling hospital, school and work for months yet amazingly none of their neighbours knew.
– Mum Ceri Rodaway
That’s just how you live in our days, I think it’s just one of those things you don’t even think about... You just come in your house, shut your door and get on with your life.”
Our survey revealed that just over 40% of us know fewer than four people on our street but there are always exceptions and we found one. Rockingham Drive in Wigan is possibly one of the friendliest places to live.
The community spirit on the street is outstanding and seemingly all too rare these days. Residents are kind, helpful and work together to provide a family-friendly environment. The question is how have they managed to achieve this?
Former policeman Chris Worthington who has lived on the street for twelve years has been instrumental in making it a harmonious place to live. Three years ago he put flyers through everyone’s doors inviting them to a neighbourhood watch style residents meeting which was a huge success and the first step to creating the vibrant community spirit that is alive today.
– Rockingham Drive resident
Everyone on Rockingham Drive has got something to give and everybody gives something, it’s not somebody taking all the time - everybody is giving as well.”
Unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to live in such a neighbourhood and more recently the central pillars of our traditional communities have started to disappear. In the past decade over 5000 post offices have closed and local pubs are now vanishing at a rate of 26 a week. One in six high street shops currently lies empty and of course, more of us now meet, socialise and shop online which means we have even less time, and incentive, to know our neighbours.
One community who had already lost several of their amenities and weren’t prepared to let their pub go too are the residents of Bamford, a village in Derbyshire. They’d already lost the bank, the doctors’ surgery and the local shop so when the local pub the Anglers Rest was put up for sale the villagers decided enough was enough. Incredibly 300 of them raised over £260,000 and bought it.
They have recaptured the heart of their community and created a hub where the village can once again meet up and socialise.
The way our houses are designed can have a major influence on how we interact with our neighbours. Some designers like Isabel Allen believe that outdoor social spaces are almost more important than the houses themselves.
Her latest development in Stroud, Gloucestershire comprises of 78 homes that are all designed around the social space - to give the people who will eventually live here every opportunity to get to know each other.
– Isabel Allen, Housing Designer
This is a project with community absolutely at its heart we worked with the community group in developing the scheme, we put community spaces there, the planning started very much in the social spaces, the houses in a way came afterwards.”
Increasingly research is showing that knowing our neighbours is good for our health, security and happiness.
– Kevin McCloud, Presenter / Designer / Writer
When you know your neighbours you are happier, you’re more relaxed, and you feel a much greater sense of connection and that has got to be good. We’re a social creature human beings... We want to engage with and live with other people.”
In Connah’s Quay the tea party was a huge success - Chris and Chelsey finally met and chatted to their neighbours and the residents’ raffle raised £144 for the children’s liver foundation. Most importantly Ceri and her family got to tell the people on their street about their situation and everyone offered to help – and you can’t put a price on that.
Watch Tonight: Do You Know Your Neighbours? on ITV at 7.30pm