Back to September 2019

Death of community spirit ‘exaggerated’

  • 66% of people believe it’s important to be part of a community
  • 90% of respondents believe individuals need to take responsibility for developing communities

Reports of the death of community spirit are exaggerated and individuals are still taking responsibility to foster communities, new research from Leeds Building Society reveals.

The findings of the national survey* indicated 66% of people believe it is important to be a member of a community and those that are feel connected, positive and valued.

While the popularity of online interactions continue to grow and the numbers taking part in virtual communities are swelling, there is a clear distinction in how people view online and traditional communities.

Three-fifths (61%) of respondents classed online activity as a community that offers value, but just 9% said they view them in the same way as physical ones, with many believing virtual groups do not represent true communities due to the lack of face-to-face interactions.

When it comes to creating a community, 90% of respondents said it was up to individuals to take responsibility for bringing people together.

Local councils (56%) were also highlighted as leaders in building ties and fostering a sense of togetherness; however national politicians (25%) and political parties (23%) were not seen as having the same influence over the creation of communities.

Richard Fearon, Chief Executive Officer at Leeds Building Society, said: “We were founded as a building society more than 140 years ago on the principle of people helping people. We still believe people achieve more by working together and investing time and effort in each other.

“There’s a growing sense that communities and community spirit are waning, so it’s refreshing to see the evidence that people still feel motivated to get together to benefit both themselves and others.”

Dr Paul Bagguley, Director of Research and Innovation for Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, said: “The idea of communities and community spirit dying out is a recurring theme and something that has been suggested by experts for probably the last 100 years.

“Often it’s exaggerated and really is linked to nostalgia for our youth. This research indicates there is still a sense of belonging and people clearly identify with those in their area.

“Funding challenges and competition for resources have meant local authorities have struggled to commit to large-scale projects so increasingly individuals are gathering together to develop something for themselves that make them feel part of a group and connected to others.”

When asked to identify the kinds of behaviour that help to create a sense of community, friendliness was key. Starting conversations with people topped the table of traits that help build connections, followed by knowing the names of your neighbours and interacting with people who have similar interests.

Helping others and using local businesses rounded out the top five. Respondents said chatting online with other people was the lowest ranked behaviour when it came to creating a sense of community.

Richard Fearon added: “Our members have told us that social isolation and loneliness are important concerns for them and are issues wider society needs to address. Something as simple as saying ‘hello’ to neighbours can help foster that sense of connection to other people and help them feel more positive and connected with their local area.

“As a business we work hard to contribute to the communities in which our colleagues and members live and work, through volunteering, supporting local and national charities and providing a warm welcome for those who use our branch network.”


Notes to Editors

*A national survey of 1,420 people was conducted in August 2019

Leeds Building Society operates throughout the UK and in Gibraltar and had assets of £20.7bn at 30 June 2019 (£19.4bn at 30 June 2018). The Society is a Best Companies 2* employer and its head office is in the centre of Leeds, where it has been based since 1886.

The Society won the title of Best Shared Ownership Mortgage Lender in the 2019 What Mortgage Awards, its fourth consecutive year of success in this category. It also was named Best Lender for Later Life Lending in the Legal & General Mortgage Club Awards 2019.