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.
With this in mind, Ballycastle resident David Quinney Mee has been connecting communities in Rathlin Island and Ballycastle for several years through his work with Rathlin Community Development Association and his volunteering. He said: “Rathlin people know very clearly the value of connectedness and neighbours helping neighbours - they rely upon it to cope in times of crisis. When the weather is bad and the sea is too rough for boats to cross, that’s when the community needs to pull together most. Rathlin people know this and it helps the community feel close and strong and resilient.”
At times when David needed help, the Rathlin people were there for him too. He continued: “My daughter has had three liver transplants, and last year, the Rathlin people amazed me by holding a Pub quiz and surprising us by raising the funds for my daughter to go to the World Transplant Games. There are countless other stories like that. The Rathlin people have been there for me again and again, and I am grateful for that. Acts of kindness and community spirit like that are so hard to quantify in terms of economic value because they have a ripple effect. You can’t tell how far one act of kindness will go when people, in gratitude, pay it forward. It’s like a flower producing seeds. Each one of those seeds will grow and produce more seeds, sooner or later, and it spread out and out.”
In Ballycastle, David was a volunteer director of a local youth charity which hoped to redevelop a local building as a community hub, including community cinema, rehearsal/recording studios, youth cafe, meeting rooms and small conference space, to be run as a social enterprise and include significant business, catering and creative industry training opportunities. The vision remains and is currently looking for a new structure to bring it to fruition.
He is also honorary secretary of Ballycastle Church Action, which unites all of the town’s churches for social engagement projects. They run a telephone support network for the elderly and vulnerable, ‘Good Morning Ballycastle.’ It is developing a foodbank, money management service, parenting courses and befriending service for the local area. David is also a founder member of a small Amnesty International group in Ballycastle and has worked locally in community arts development and with the Corrymeela Community on residential peace and reconciliation programmes.
David attended the Eden Project Community Camp in February, and met 60 other community connectors across Northern Ireland and the UK. They are working together to inspire and energise each other to strengthen communities, and build up a movement of positive social action.
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 Antrim 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.”
If anyone would like more information on Eden Project Communities and The Big Lunch, please visit visit the website www.edenprojectcommunities/thebiglunch or contact firstname.lastname@example.org