Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 09:00

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall comments on how taking time to talk can make a difference to lonely lives

Research carried out by The Big Lunch has found that while feelings of loneliness are on the rise, the simple act of talking to neighbour is seen by those questioned as not only a way to brighten someone’s day, but as a lifeline for those who live alone.

The study - carried out by Lottery funded initiative The Big Lunch - the UK’s annual get together for neighbours – found that for some people, talking with a neighbour is one of the highlights of their day.  More than a fifth of those questioned say they are flattered by the interest when a neighbour makes the effort to talk to them.  More than a third say it makes them feel that they matter and are less invisible and almost two-thirds of people said it makes them feel happier.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall said, “As the proud Patron of The Big Lunch, I've always enjoyed seeing people sharing food, having fun and simply chatting with their neighbours.  Just taking time to talk can make such a difference to lonely lives.

“I've been told that after Big Lunches people are inspired to get together and help each other.  Walk-to-school rotas, babysitting circles and cleaned-up children’s playgrounds are all results of these small beginnings.

“Big Lunches bring people together who might otherwise be overlooked.  A knock on the door or a friendly chat over the fence can make elderly or lonely neighbours part of the community again.  Big things come from Big Lunches and small talk is often the way to getting the ball rolling.”

Tracey Robbins, Programme Manager, Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said, “We know from past work that our relationships are central to our wellbeing. We’ve recently undertaken work within four neighbourhoods around loneliness and it was evident that ‘kindness in communities’, connectedness and those informal support networks are key to reducing loneliness and isolation for ourselves, our friends, neighbours and our local communities. It could happen over a cup of tea, if someone has something on their mind and needs to share it," she adds. "Many of these things are everyday invisible acts, ‘gifts of time’ which almost go unnoticed. People tend not to stop and think too much about the value they have.”

The Big Lunch research highlights that there is more to be done when it comes to making small talk with our neighbours as 45% of people admit they have got at least one neighbour they have never said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to. One in twenty say they have never engaged in small talk with a neighbour, while another one in twenty admits it’s been years.

Clinical Psychologist Tanya Byron commented, “It is very easy to trivialise 'small talk' as tedious and time wasting, but in fact taking the time to have meaningful but minimal interactions is very important. These are the conversations that have meaning and benefit our immediate community and wider society. They are free, take no time and are impactful. These moments are humanising and are an important acknowledgement of the individual. In taking the trouble to talk to your neighbour you may also be helping to reduce their sense of loneliness.” 

The small talk that happens in communities is a lifeline for many and The Big Lunch is calling on everyone in the UK to boost the conversations happening in streets and gardens nationwide.  Chatty neighbours are being encouraged to host a Big Lunch event in their communities on Sunday 1 June to spread small talk further and build community bonds.  Anyone interested in organising a Big Lunch in their area is invited to request a free Big Lunch pack from to get their events off the ground.

Rick Taylor, who helps to organise his Big Lunch in Bristol, said: The Big Lunch has made a massive impact on our road. Before people didn’t really know each other, but now we all know each other a lot better and socialise together too.

“It means that people, especially the older residents, know who to contact when they need help. For example, when we last had deep snow, the younger residents helped to clear paths and driveways so that older, less able residents were able to get out and about.”

The Big Lunch – made possible by the Big Lottery Fund - is expecting millions of people to take part on Sunday 1 June 2014.  For more information about holding a Big Lunch, request a free pack online at  Packs contain invitations and posters to adapt for your community, as well as seeds, a bunting template and an inspiration booklet with lots of ideas and info to help get you started.