Neighbourly ties strengthening amid pandemic as ‘Big Lunch’ goes virtual

May 31, 2020 11:01:00 PM

Twice as many people are chatting with their neighbours than this time last year, a survey suggests, as communities support each other through the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 2,500 people said they had stopped for a natter with a neighbour in the past week, according to polling shared exclusively with the PA news agency.

This is six in 10 of the 4,000 people surveyed between May 10-13, up from 30% in 2019, while one in three respondents (1,171) said they had helped a neighbour during the pandemic. 

When extrapolated to the UK population, this is the equivalent of 33 million people chatting with a neighbour in the last week and 15 million helping them during lockdown.

Big Lunch ambassador Ainsley Harriott
Big Lunch ambassador Ainsley Harriott said it was heartening to see communities pulling together (The Big Lunch/PA)

The survey was commissioned for The Big Lunch, a National Lottery-supported initiative from the Eden project, which is backed by the Duchess of Cornwall.

This time last year, around one in five people said they had nobody in their community they could call on.

Almost the same proportion had never spoken to a neighbour, with three times fewer people (6%) saying this is the case now.

And 16% of respondents said they had spoken with someone they did not know before the pandemic.

Seven in 10 respondents said people in their area are now more likely to stop for a chat, and three-quarters want this new-found friendliness to continue post-lockdown.

Last year, six million people came together for street parties and celebrations as part of 100,000 Big Lunch events, and next weekend it will go virtual for the first time.

Screengrab of people taking part in The Big Lunch
There were 100,000 Big Lunch events last year (The Big Lunch/PA)

With social distancing still in place, communities are being urged to take the get-together online, over the phone and to their doorsteps, and be creative about how to stay connected.

Ainsley Harriott, a Big Lunch ambassador, said: “It is important for us to stay connected to our communities as we are relying on our neighbours more than ever.

“It’s heartening to see neighbourhoods looking out for each other, forming online contact groups and shopping for those who need help.

“We may not be able to go to restaurants or have parties right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t share a meal.”

Comedian Jo Brand said: “We can carry on sitting in our gardens and waving at our neighbours or pulling up a chair and raising a glass to the people over the road.

“We can even do a bit of digital dining. I’ve worked out how to use Zoom, so if I can log on and pour down a kale smoothie, anyone can have a Big Virtual Lunch.”

Dawn Austwick, chief executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “The kindness, support, and resilience of our communities have always been there, but it is in times of crisis that these come to the fore.”

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