Editor's Viewpoint: People of Northern Ireland would do well to recapture our reputation as good neighbours for a more caring society
One thing that people from Northern Ireland are famed for is being good neighbours. However, research by the Big Lunch blows a huge hole in that reputation by revealing that one in five people have never spoken to their neighbour, and almost 70% don't really know the people who live next door. Most astonishing of all, almost half of those questioned didn't even know their neighbours' names.
These findings will astonish most people who grew up in rural communities or on the terraced streets of our cities and big towns. In the days of at least a generation ago, neighbours made it their business to know all about those who lived close by. Indeed, their friendliness - or was it inquisitiveness - was a little overpowering in some instances.
But ultimately, most people became friends of varying degrees and were there to lend a helping hand in times of crisis.
So, what has changed? The drift of people from rural communities to urban living has dramatically changed the nature of life in the cities. Apartments mean that people enter their homes, close the doors and rarely see another person.
Shift-working and the pressure of daily life means that many people have little time for socialising except with work colleagues. Communities have become atomised; everyone looks after their own life and has decreasing numbers of truly close friends.
Yet, although the figures in the survey do not differentiate between rural and urban areas, it would be remarkable if there was not a greater sense of neighbourliness in country areas. The sheer nature of rural life - and that fact that so many families living there go back generations - makes it more difficult to live life as a loner.
We should try to recapture our reputation as good neighbours. What about the single old person who rarely sees anyone else? How they would welcome the occasion visit from a neighbour and the reassurance that someone cares about them and could even save their life if they take ill or are exposed to danger.