According to the American writer, Eric Hoffer,”It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbour”. For the Canadian-American chemist and commentator, O.A.Batista “A neighbour is a person who can get to your house in less than a minute and takes two hours to go back home”. Even Jane Austen, (the author of famous English romantic novels such as “Pride & Prejudice” and “Sense & Sensibility”) expressed the view that “Everyman is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies”. Almost two hundred years later, suspicion of the people living on the other side of the fence or wall – and the tendency to maintain a discreet distance from them – seems to be even more pronounced. A“YouGov” investigation commissioned by Co-operatives UK has indicated that the average person is acquainted with just seven people in their immediate area compared to thirteen in 1982, though this figure varies considerably depending on the region. InScotlandand Northern England, 94% of people know the names of their neighbours, whereas inLondon11% are unable to name any of them at all. Almost half the population (49%) is apparently more familiar with their favourite celebrities than with the family in the house across the road. In 1982, six out of ten of people regularly went next door for a chat, compared to just two out of ten now. The numbers of “never neighbours” (who never go next door) has increased from 26% to 43% over the same period and UK residents are “four times less willing to start up conversations with complete strangers” – a drop from 78% to 21% today.

Similar research conducted by the housing provider. CircleAnglia, has suggested that “56% of the adults aged above 65 like being with their neighbours. compared with just 26% below 25”. Furthermore, that 91% of older people trust their neighbours to look after deliveries in their absence, but this proportion falls to 62% among the younger group. Statistics produced by the Department of Social Sciences atLoughboroughUniversityreveal that 85% of  “Geordies” (Newcastleresidents) like their neighbours most, but only 1% of Londoners count their neighbours as good friends. Mancunians reputedly have the most disputes with the people next door (42%). InCardiff, 61% are annoyed by their neighbours yet at the same time 27% “are attracted to them”.Glasgowis classified as “more sociable” than the “less talkative”Edinburgh, where “23% have never had a conversation with their neighbour”. The “Up My Street” website has calculated that the number of people who claim their neighbours “make their life hell” has decreased by more than half since 2007 to just 5.4%, though 67% of  respondents “admit they would sell up and move away from nightmare neighbours”. Most complaints appear to be related to excessive noise, especially from “barking dogs, loud music and televisions” – as well as other contentious issues such as carrying out DIY (Do It Yourself) at inconsiderate times, sounding the car horn instead of ringing the doorbell, parking problems (8.5%), untidy house/garden appearances (6.7%) and “constant barbecues”.

One of the latest signs of this supposed “collapse in community spirit”, (as depicted in  a “Guardian” article of 4th April) is “the decline of the street party” in the UK.  The latest edition of “The Economist” magazine portrays the William-Kate wedding on 29th April as providing a good excuse for a “knees-up”, in accordance with the national tradition (dating back to the ‘peace teas’ held to celebrate the Versailles treaty with Germany in 1919) for decking residential streets with Union flags and setting up makeshift tables in the road. Walter Bagehot ( Editor of The Economist 1861-1877 )  declared that “Princely marriage rivets mankind”.   Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt has estimated that the Westminster Abbey ceremony will be watched by 2 billion people worldwide and travel sector experts anticipate it will provide a “huge boost” for the country’s tourism industry. Much of the UK media, however, has discerned there to be rather less enthusiasm among the British public for this royal event than for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 (the 25th Anniversary of her accession to the throne) and for the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981 (when, says the “Daily Telegraph”, there were 10 million street party-goers). BBC News has published recent figures from the Local Government Association (LHA) which reveal that there have been only 4000 applications for royal wedding street parties in England and Wales – which “may sound a lot, but is far fewer than predicted by the “Daily Mail” newspaper.” The majority of these are concentrated in the southern part of theUK, such as : Hertfordshire (132 street closure requests),Kent (85), West Sussex (80),Bristol (53)  andCardiff (35). The “London Evening Standard” has reported that in the capital, Wandsworth “ is top of the league table” with 49 of its streets due to close for the celebrations , followed by Croydon (48) andRichmond (44). Prime Minister David Cameron is said to have applied for a licence to hold a party outside10 Downing Street.  Meanwhile, to ensure that occupants of tower block flats in East London are not left out of the festivities altogether, a royal wedding picnic will be held inMileEndPark. Mayor Boris Johnson has urged the boroughs to “use the occasion to rebuild a sense of community”.

Further north, there has been just one street party application in Gateshead and Chesterfield, none at all in Hullon the east coast and only thirteen in the whole of Scotland. Stoke-On-Trent Councillor Brian Ward’s criticism that the paucity of applications in his city is due to “less patriotism” has been rejected by a contributor to the local “Sunday Mercury” newspaper, who has pointed out that “To hold a street party for the residents and the local community, you have to know them. I live in a purpose-built block of 30 apartments. I know the name of the resident of one flat…mine. I know the couple next door by sight and we exchange the occasional polite “Hi” if we bump into each other, but that’s it”. She was sure that the television viewing figures “will be through the roof”. The problem, in her opinion, is that people are interested in the wedding “but not in each other”. BBC News has also noted that the combination of the four-day Easter weekend, the May 2nd Bank Holiday and the additional day off for the wedding itself has tempted many UK residents to go abroad for an 11-day break : Travel company Thomas Cook “has laid on an extra 100,000 holidays to cope with the demand”.  Other adverse contributory factors have been “the timing of the big day” (Chris Gittins, Director of “Streets Alive, believes there would have been double the number of street parties if a summer date had been chosen) and the daunting bureaucratic process involved in organizing a street party – such as the specified minimum height of banners and bunting (7 metres), the ban on the sale of alcohol, hiring traffic cones, the prohibitive cost of public liability insurance and the hosts’ responsibility for problems “ranging from food poisoning to bad behaviour from their guests”. The “Republic” campaign group attributes the alleged lack of public excitement to the fact that “only a tiny minority of zealous monarchists” still care about the royal family. It has applied for a permit to hold a “Not The Royal Wedding” alternative party inEarlham Street,Central London to coincide with the pomp and rituals of the nuptials taking place a short distance away in Westminster Abbey.



Filed under: Society | Posted on April 12th, 2011 by Colin D Gordon

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