Experiences gained on Skye have been helping to form a national picture of how communities in Scotland help themselves and each other.

A new study has found that Scotland’s disconnected communities could be costing the local economy £731 million every year. This constitutes a portion of the £32 billion that makes up the total UK-wide cost.

The research, commissioned by Eden Project initiative The Big Lunch and funded by the Big Lottery, reveals the annual cost to Scotland’s public services of social isolation and disconnected communities, including:

Emily Watts, Country Manager Scotland for Eden Project Communities said: “This piece of research only deepens our commitment to encourage communities to connect with one another and take whatever action they feel will best benefit their area. We know that people who live in a place have a unique knowledge about what will work. We hear stories every year about how people feel better and more resilient after taking part in things like our mass participation event ‘The Big Lunch’ or by simply doing things where they live that benefit the community.”

The Big Lunch is one of Eden’s most significant and best known initiatives, made possible by the Big Lottery Fund. The idea is for as many people as possible across the UK to have lunch with their neighbours annually on a Sunday in June, in a simple act of community, friendship and fun. 

In Portree Lesley Hellon who runs the Youth Drop in was instrumental in pulling together a Big Lunch event which, unsurprisingly, was hit by the weather.

She said: “The July date was washed out so we moved it to a date in August, a Sunday. People had already done home baking and asked them to put it in the freezer so it went ahead. We borrowed tables from the community centre and people brought garden furniture. Kids came and put up bunting. All came together in a small way – we had 44 people who engaged for us.”

Now though the impact of the Skye event on the local community and those that it did involve has been carefully analysed, along with many similar community gatherings across Scotland, to help get a true picture of the benefits they bring and all have helped shape the overall findings of the national study.

Peter Stewart MVO, Eden Project Executive Director said “We wanted to find out more about the impact of community-led initiatives like The Big Lunch – both the benefits to individuals’ health and well-being, and the economic impact. There is a lot of existing research suggesting that people feel happier, safer and more content when they live in connected communities and know their neighbours. However, this study reveals that the financial benefits to individuals and wider society are enormous too. There are more reasons than ever for communities to come together. Getting to know your neighbours through an initiative like The Big Lunch will bring you joy and happiness, and will also help save you and the UK money.”

According to the research, which was carried out by leading economics consultancy the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr), neighbourliness already delivers substantial economic benefits to Scottish society, representing an annual saving of £1.1 billion in total.

This saving comes from sharing between neighbours[4], an increase in social connection and reductions in the demands on public services such as healthcare, social care, welfare and the environment.

It also includes the productivity benefits associated with a happier and healthier workforce: a net gain to Scotland’s economy of £352 million. UK-wide the figure stands at £6.4 billion which is equivalent to 0.34% of UK GDP in 2015.[5]

The Eden Project is an educational charity working to connect people with each other and the living world, with a view to exploring how we can work together towards a better future.

The Big Lunch commissioned Cebr to produce a study examining the impact of community-led initiatives on societal welfare and on the economy.

The study reveals that neighbourliness helps ease demand on public services by providing locally run alternatives, such as neighbourhood watch schemes and local litter picks.

The saving to Scotland’s public services equates to £161.2 million. UK-wide, this figure stands at £2.9 billion today and could rise to £8.1 billion if all the people not currently involved in community activities like The Big Lunch switch to being involved.

It also reveals that neighbourliness has a huge welfare value to the Scottish people, with over £593 million saved each year because of resources shared and help provided by neighbours who know each other.

The report is a combination of qualitative research and quantitative data – the latter garnered via a survey carried out by Cebr for the purposes of the study.  

The research also estimates the potential magnitude of these benefits if more people[6] in the UK got to know their neighbours and became more involved in community initiatives and activities, putting this figure at £55.5 billion in welfare terms, and a net gain to the macro economy of £18.1 billion - equivalent to almost 1% of UK GDP in 2015, through productivity improvements.

Oliver Hogan, Director Cebr said “With our report we have established the cost to society of disconnected communities. Our starting point is that community involvement can act to reduce loneliness and isolation and encourage positive change within communities. There is a lot of existing research on loneliness, so this study was shaped to provide a perspective on the costs imposed on society by disconnected communities.”
We found that, by increasing social capital, reducing isolation, and enhancing social inclusion, community activities and events lead to improvements in health, educational performance and socioeconomic circumstance. As such, they can help redress the balance between the need for and provision of public services and reduce the demands on those services. However, an element of the overall improvement in societal welfare also translates into productivity gains to the UK economy through a happier and healthier workforce.”