Talking with a neighbour is the ‘highlight of the day’ for many in Ballymoney

With more and more of us living alone, an increase in communication via e-mail and text and feelings of loneliness on the rise, research carried out among 2,000 adults by The Big Lunch has found that the simple act of talking to your neighbour is seen by those questioned in Northern Ireland as not only a way to ‘brighten someone’s day’ (32%) but as a ‘lifeline’ for those who live alone (23%).

The study - carried out by Lottery funded initiative The Big Lunch - the UK’s annual get together for neighbours – found that for more than one in sixteen in the province, talking with a neighbour is one of the highlights of their day. Twenty per cent of those questioned say they are flattered by the interest when a neighbour makes the effort to talk to them. One third say it makes them feel that they matter and are less invisible and a quarter of people said it makes them feel happier.

Tracey Robbins, Programme Manager, Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said, “We know from past work that our relationships are central to our wellbeing. We’ve recently undertaken work within four neighbourhoods around loneliness and it was evident that ‘kindness in communities’, connectedness and those informal support networks are key to reducing loneliness and isolation for ourselves, our friends, neighbours and our local communities. It could happen over a cup of tea, if someone has something on their mind and needs to share it,” she adds. “Many of these things are everyday invisible acts, ‘gifts of time’ which almost go unnoticed. People tend not to stop and think too much about the value they have.”

The Big Lunch research highlights that there is more to be done when it comes to making small talk with our neighbours as 19% admit they have got at least one neighbour they have never said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to. Over one in twenty say they have never engaged in small talk with a neighbour, while another one in twenty admits it’s been years.

Clinical Psychologist Tanya Byron commented, “It is very easy to trivialise ‘small talk’ as tedious and time wasting, but in fact taking the time to have meaningful but minimal interactions is very important. These are the conversations that have meaning and benefit our immediate community and wider society. They are free, take no time and are impactful. These moments are humanising and are an important acknowledgement of the individual. In taking the trouble to talk to your neighbour you may also be helping to reduce their sense of loneliness.”

The small talk that happens in communities is a lifeline for many and The Big Lunch is calling on everyone in the UK to boost the conversations happening in streets and gardens nationwide. Chatty neighbours in Ballymoney are being encouraged to host a Big Lunch event in their communities on Sunday 1 June to spread small talk further and build community bonds. Anyone interested in organising a Big Lunch in their area is invited to request a free Big Lunch pack from to get their events off the ground.

Big Lunch spokesperson for Northern Ireland, Grainne McCloskey said: “This is why I think that things like The Big Lunch are crucial - it’s not just about having lunch together (although that is very nice!), it’s also about developing a sense of community and being able to be there for each other. In this day and age I think it is easy for people to feel isolated, especially if they live alone but this is a way of lessening that isolation and is therefore in my opinion extremely important.”

The Big Lunch – made possible by the Big Lottery Fund - is expecting millions of people to take part on Sunday 1 June 2014. For more information about holding a Big Lunch in Ballymoney, request a free pack online at Packs contain invitations and posters to adapt for your community, as well as seeds, a bunting template and an inspiration booklet with lots of ideas and info to help get you started.