Is Community Spirit Still Alive?

Is community spirit a thing of the past or still very much alive? We surveyed the British public to explore how our sense of community has evolved.

You could say society looks a little bit different today than it did 50 years ago – or even 10 years ago. People move around more, the way we work has changed, there's a little thing called social media and a pandemic swept the globe. So, has any of this had a knock-on effect on local community spirit? Read on to find out.

Do Brits get along with their neighbours?

Is 'love thy neighbour' a mantra we all live by? Or are we more likely to pick up the phone to the police the second they throw a noisy party? According to a study by Nextdoor, knowing just six neighbours reduces the likelihood of feeling lonely, depressed or anxious. So, it's in our best interest to be pally with the locals.

The good news is that 57% of Brits say they have a good relationship with their neighbours and 28% want to get to know them better. But on the other hand, nearly a third (30%) admit they wouldn't even say hello to their neighbours in passing and 1 in 10 actively avoid them. Perhaps they're just not the sociable types!

Interestingly, data reveals people who own their home are more likely to get along well with their neighbours than those who rent. Not only do 52% of homeowners claim to make an effort to get to know their neighbours, compared with just 43% of renters, but they're also significantly more likely to trust them (57% vs. 30%) and respect them (66% vs. 57%). Apparently purchasing a home involves committing to the community, as well as the property.

Where are the tightest communities in the UK?

You can't paint the whole nation with the same brush, so where can you find the strongest sense of community in the UK?

Belfast certainly fares well. Here, residents are most likely to say they get along well with their neighbours (69%) and that they respect them too (74%). They also reckon everyone in the local area knows each other (41%), painting the picture of a tight-knit community. And when it comes to getting stuck into community activities and socialising with neighbours, the people of Plymouth and Cardiff come out on top.  Some 39% of Cardiff residents say they socialise with their neighbours – more than anywhere else. And 41% of people from Plymouth say there are plenty of community events in the area – the most of all UK cities.

Sadly, things don't look so bright in other parts of the UK. Brighton residents are the most likely to admit having trouble with their neighbours (29%) and people in Nottingham are most likely to say it's hard to make friends in the local community (31%). Plus, only 44% of Londoners say they trust their neighbours.

Has social media had an impact on local communities?

Social media has crept into our lives in all sorts of ways. It turns out our local communities are no exception. From Facebook groups to Nextdoor, there are plenty of ways people can connect with their neighbours online. But this might not necessarily be a good thing.

Facebook is the top choice for people looking to interact with others in their area, with 67% of respondents reporting being part of a local Facebook group. Only 32% say that most of the posts in the group are of a positive nature though. And on Nextdoor – where 56% of respondents are a member – the number of people saying the atmosphere is purely positive is even lower (24%). This theme continues among WhatsApp groups (53% are a member) and on local Instagram pages (19% follow one), with a respective 25% and 19% saying the overall vibe is positive. Could people be turning to these groups to vent about local nuisances as opposed to connecting with the community?

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact community spirit?

Before the pandemic hit, lots of us would describe life as a bit of a whirlwind. Busy schedules had us dashing in and out of our homes for errands and social events in a mad rush. Neighbours would pass like ships in the night. Then, suddenly one day, we're told we have to stay at home. So, did all this extra time spent in our local areas bring communities together? Over a quarter of Brits reckon so. Some 27% say they think the pandemic has united people and 18% say they've got to know their neighbours better. Plus, usage of Nextdoor jumped by 80% at the peak of the first UK lockdown. On the flip side, 23% feel the pandemic has made people in the community more socially distanced from one another. This is likely thanks to strict lockdown rules, but also because 10% feel the lockdown rules (or flouting of them) have made people judge each other more. But will this have a lasting impact on community spirit? Only 14% think the positive impacts will have long-term effects and 10% that the negatives will. They think life is likely to return to its pre-pandemic state over time.

How has our sense of community changed over time?

Ever heard an older person use the phrase "back in my day…"? That's because the golden days of yesteryear are romanticised as a time where people supported each other and engaged in proper conversations – ones that didn't take place via text message. So, does this longing for a time-gone-by mean community spirit has been lost somewhere along the way?

Across all age-groups, more Brits feel the level of community spirit in their local area has got worse in their lifetime than better. This is highest among the over 55s, with a third (33%) reckoning things have gone downhill, compared with just 23% who said things have improved. Young people are the exception, where there is close to an even split between people who believe community spirit has got stronger in their lifetime (28%) and those who say it's weaker (26%).

Either way, a quarter of Brits report it being hard to get to know people in their local area now. And more worryingly, only 40% feel that people look out for each other. There is hope for community spirit though, as 16% are actively involved in their local community already and another 26% want to be more involved. Plus, with the younger generation of the impression things are looking up, there's hopefully a bright future for community spirit.