How often do you see your neighbours? Do you know them by name? Or have you known each other for years? In the digital age, how many of us can say we know our neighbours?
Traditionally, the rural community has been regarded as more close-knit than that in towns and cities, but research commissioned by Calor shows that many of us who live in the country feel disconnected, both from each other, and from local services. Of particular concern is the rural isolation of the elderly.
The research has been released as the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) launch Know Your Neighbour, supported by Calor. Findings show that only half of rural dwellers (51%) would say they know their neighbours very well and just over a third (38%) would agree that there is a lot of interaction between people within their local community.
Know Your Neighbour will be driven by the 55 Young Farmers’ Clubs across the province. It will see events taking place in club halls throughout the summer, to re-establish important community contacts between young and old.
Whether it’s a tea party, a sports day or a community barbecue, the Young Farmers’ events will aim to engage with older and more vulnerable members of the rural community, person to person.
Speaking at the launch, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Those living in isolated rural communities in the north rely on their closest neighbours for support, security and friendship. Rural people have always prided themselves on their strong sense of community and their reputation for being welcoming and friendly. These characteristics still define rural people and are the foundation of life in isolated rural communities.
“The YFCU/Macra/Calor ‘Know Your Neighbour’ campaign will provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the importance of community; and the value of building and maintaining friendships and connections within our rural areas.
“I would encourage everyone to use this campaign to reach out a hand of friendship to their neighbours; especially to those who may be lonely, in need of support, or living on their own. By connecting with our neighbours we are helping to ensure the future of our rural communities and are creating a truly inclusive society of which we can all be proud.”
Roberta Simmons, YFCU president said: “In an era when more ‘community’ than ever before is on a screen rather than in person, we are encouraged to see that 65% of rural dwellers in Northern Ireland feel it is important to know your neighbours on a personal level; and 69% of respondents stated that keeping in contact with elderly neighbours is one of the most important aspects of community living.
“Know Your Neighbour puts this into action. It aims to provide an opportunity to reach out and get to know these neighbours and establish a strong personal support network, something which is sadly being eroded in this digital era. I would encourage every community, whether rural or urban, to get involved and have some fun with it.”
Other findings from the research reveal that some of the biggest issues of concern to rural communities are access to hospitals and medical services, public transport, unemployment, road quality, rural crime and the closure of local amenities.
Tom O’ Carroll, CEO of Calor said: “At Calor, we understand the challenges faced by rural communities. We operate throughout rural Ireland, where we support homeowners, rural enterprises and larger agri-food industries by providing a cleaner, efficient fuel source for communities who cannot access the infrastructure that will allow them to thrive and to create further employment. We are delighted to partner with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster to support this campaign.”
YFCU is calling on communities province wide to host a local event this summer to encourage neighbours to get to know each other better.
Any club planning an event should register for an organiser’s pack at www.yfcu.org/knowyourneighbour.
The organiser’s pack will include helpful ideas, posters, and balloons to make the event successful.