Disconnected communities cost Northern Ireland £1.69 billion per year, according to a new study commissioned by Eden Project Communities and The Big Lunch.
According to the research, which was carried out by leading economics consultancy the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr), neighbourliness has substantial economic benefits to UK society, representing an annual saving of £1.73 billion per year.
This saving comes from sharing between neighbours, an increase in social connection and reductions in the demands on public services such as healthcare, social care, welfare and the environment.
The cost of disconnection in Northern Ireland includes Demand on health services of £267 million, which is equal to the cost of building 3 new Specialist Emergency Care hospitals; Demand on policing: £400,000 equal to the median yearly salary of 13 police officers and Loss of productivity, with a net cost of nearly £631 million every year.
The research shows that neighbourliness benefits the Northern Irish economy with an annual saving of £1.73 billion in total per year. Productivity benefits associated with a happier and healthier workforce mean there is a net gain to Northern Ireland’s economy of £512.4 million.
Neighbourliness has a huge welfare value to people living in Northern Ireland, with over £1 billion saved each year because of resources shared and help provided by neighbours who know each other.
When Gemma Reid moved to Portrush she joined Arcadia Bathing Club in the hopes of meeting new people and gaining a new community. But she found that didn’t really happen until after the club started planning their Big Lunch.
‘The Arcadia Bathing Club is one of my favourite things about living in Portrush,” said Gemma. “But after our ordinary weekly bathe, there isn’t always the opportunity to hang around and chat and get to know each other better. The group has got so much bigger recently, we didn’t really even know each other’s names.
“Our Big Lunch was a great opportunity to stay a while, enjoy the sun, savour food together and start up a conversation with someone new. And planning it together was half the fun.
“So many people talked about how much they valued that opportunity and what a difference it made to the spirit of our group. We met each other’s family and friends. As a blow-in it definitely helped me feel more of a part of the community and we are definitely going to do it again. The value of that feeling – that you belong in a community – it would be hard to do it justice.’
Eden Project Communities Northern Ireland Manager Grainne McCloskey said: “The Big Lunch is a great first step that just about anyone can take towards bringing their community together and making it a better place to live. It starts with just knocking a neighbour’s door.
“We would love to see a Big Lunch on every street and in every town across Northern Ireland and we are here to help.
“If there are people in the Coleraine area who are thinking about holding a Big Lunch, we are here to connect them with others who have already taken the leap. The vast majority of people who have held one say they would recommend the initiative to anyone and they are willing to offer their support. There is a great sense of camaraderie and welcome in our network.”