Community? We don't know our neighbours

The old fear the young as Mrs Thatcher's 'no-society' prediction appears to be coming true, but only some who live in Sighthill, Glasgow, recognise this scene
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The Independent Online

A third of people are predicting the death of their communities, according to a report by the Prince's Trust. Traditional social networks are becoming a thing of the past, as towns and villages across the country adapt to fast changing populations that have little in common other than happening to live near one another, experts claim.

In some places, tensions are running high – whether between commuters and locals, or different ethnic groups. The crisis is exacerbated by a climate of fear that is making old people afraid of the young and adults reluctant to intervene when confronted by anti-social behaviour.

One in three of those surveyed agreed that Margaret Thatcher's notorious statement – "there is no such thing as society" – will come true in the near future.

Most people believe the days of face-to-face contact are numbered, with 65 per cent saying that people in the future will have more contact through the internet than in person. Almost one in 10 Britons, nine per cent, admits to failing to meet other people socially on a weekly basis. And 15 per cent go a week without speaking to any of their neighbours.

Poorer communities are the least confident about the future of their community and the least satisfied with life in general. More than one in five people here said they had not spoken to a neighbour for at least a week, while eight per cent have not spoken to a neighbour for at least a month.

The results are from an Ipsos MORI survey of almost 1,000 Britons aged 15 and above.

"There's a real issue with people being dislocated from the communities where they live," said Ginny Lunn, the director of policy and development at the Prince's Trust. "Everybody needs to take responsibility for communities and make sure people aren't isolated, otherwise we could face a generation of people who will become unconnected from society."

The trust and the Royal Bank of Scotland are injecting £1m into a new scheme for young people in deprived areas. Ms Lunn warned: "The spiralling effect of no community means that the disadvantaged young truants of today are the disadvantaged unemployed adults of tomorrow – creating more poverty, more unhappiness, and less faith in the future."

Children returning to empty homes while parents work, the existence of "no-go" areas, the increase in gated private developments are all signs of the way in which traditional ideas of communities are changing, say experts.

Urgent action is needed, said Alessandra Buonfino, the head of research at the think tank Demos: "We shouldn't be in despair that communities are going to disappear, but the Government needs to invest more in supporting things like community associations and youth clubs, public spaces that give people the chance to interact."

Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities, claimed that the situation is improving. She cited a recent government survey showing that 75 per cent of people feel they belong strongly to their neighbourhood and claimed that, "far from sounding a death knell to communities" this "should give rise to a sense of confidence about life in Britain".

"We have allocated £50m to local authorities to help them to build strong, cohesive communities. We are also ensuring that local people have more say by devolving power to communities so that the local people can influence the issues and services that affect their day to day lives," she says.

But one of Britain's top experts, Professor Gary Craig, the head of the Centre for Research in Social Inclusion and Social Justice at Hull University, said: "Community empowerment of the poor neighbourhoods hasn't really happened; I don't think politicians believe in having powerful local communities."

Additional reporting by Sean Murphy

Community spirit?

I love it here. Scottish people are so helpful. There are a few Polish families but the rest of our friends are Scots, who have accepted us

Anthony Zurakowski, 33, wife Anita and daughters

Sighthill used to be a good area but now the place gets over-run with kids looking for trouble. It's fuelled by far too much booze

Paul Young, 31, Unemployed

We've got great neighbours, I wouldn't hesitate to ask them for help. It is a pretty close community, people rely on each other

Frances Baidoo, 36, Nurse

Community spirit is changing because of regeneration. Some of the character has left with the relocated old folk

Tina Suffredini, 44, Community worker

It's a brilliant place to live, nowhere near as bad as people make out. There is a real sense of people looking after each other

Alice Bell, 87, Received MBE for community work

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