There is strong evidence that how people relate to each other in local communities impacts on their quality of life:
Strong social capital can improve the chances of avoiding lifestyle risks such as smoking, social support is particularly important in increasing resilience and promoting recovery from illness.
People with supportive friends and family, or who take part in clubs, voluntary organisations or faith organisations have better mental and physical health than those without such networks. Social isolation has long been known as a key trigger for mental illness.
The amount and quality of social connections with people around us are an essential part of our wellbeing.
The benefit of social relationships are greater than from regular exercise and similar to stopping smoking (if you smoke 15 cigarettes a day). What they term “low social interaction” – isolation – has the same health risk as not exercising and being an alcoholic.
Contact between neighbours from different backgrounds has been shown to increase understanding and reduce hostility. Contact within diverse populations can reduce discomfort between different groups. This has been evidenced in places where there has been conflict in communities, including in Northern Ireland, areas of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India and former Yugoslavia. This challenges the more popularly accepted “threat theory”, which proposes that more diversity leads to more misunderstanding and competition, and increased prejudice.
There is evidence of a correlation between strong social networks and wellbeing: those who know more people in their local neighbourhood tend to be happier than those who do not. There is also a relationship between strong social networks and belonging, community cohesion and “collective efficacy” (residents’ willingness to intervene if they witness problem behaviour). There is also a link between strong networks and actual, as well as perceived, lower crime and anti-social behaviour.
Community hubs can promote social cohesion by bringing together different social or generational groups; increase social capital and build trust; and interaction between community members; increase people’s knowledge or skills and increase wider social networks.
Neighbourhood design can positively affect sense of belonging and pride in a community.