I want to share a story, one of two polls. The first, a national poll carried out by Ipsos MORI surveying doorstep conversations between neighbours. People were asked if they are likely to have a conversation with their neighbours over the Christmas period. The second, less scientific, a sweepstake of my friends forecasting the percentage of people who told us in Poll 1 that they will speak to their neighbours over the Christmas period. 54 per cent - the most optimistic forecast within my friendship group. The actual finding, published today, stands at nearly 8 in 10. So far from being a society of strangers, the findings reveal that we continue in the great British tradition as a nation of neighbours. And that - perhaps - my friendship group could do with a dose of optimism.
As is often the case with polls, when we look a little deeper into the findings, we get some interesting insights.
People within the age bracket 55 - 75 are much more likely than people aged 16 - 24 years to talk to their neighbours over the Christmas period, with respective figures of 89 per cent and 67 per cent.
People from high-level managerial professions are much more likely to talk to their neighbours over the Christmas period than those working in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations, with respective figures of 83 per cent and 67 per cent.
Of those who will speak to their neighbours over Christmas, 71 per cent said that they were likely to speak to neighbours who are of a different age. The figure stands at only 23 per cent for people who say they are likely to talk to neighbours from a different ethnic background to themselves.
That is striking. Only 23 per cent. Though I would suggest that it is more a reflection of the make-up of our communities than of the willingness of people to speak to others from different backgrounds. We cannot have doorstep conversations with people from different ethnic groups to ourselves, if our neighbours are exclusively of the same group.
Research by Eric Kaufmann reveals that 80 per cent of wards in England and Wales have a small presence of ethnic minority communities, and that minority communities - where they are dispersing - are avoiding moving into areas where they are heavily underrepresented already. This research reveals a picture of Britain that is residentially segregated along ethnic lines.
Chatting to our neighbours as we put up the Christmas decorations, take out the bins, mow the lawn or wash the car - it's how we build trust in our communities. Because we know - the world over - that positive exposure to people of different ethnic backgrounds is a force for improved community relations.Suggest a correction