07/04/2015 19:58 BST | Updated 07/06/2015 06:59 BST

Getting to Know Your Neighbours Is Good for Your Health: Five Ways to Make the First Move

With a well-known Australian soap turning 30 recently, I wonder how many people in the UK can truly say that their neighbours have become good friends. The fictional residents of Ramsay Street might be actively involved in the lives of the people around them but many real world communities are not quite so close-knit.

I'm always interested in how people connect with one another. So it worries me that, in some UK villages, towns and cities, getting to know our neighbours seems to have fallen out of fashion. It should, in fact, be a priority. ONS figures show that we live in one of the loneliest countries in Europe. Loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a study by Brigham Young University. Face-to-face contact can make us healthier and happier, says journalist and psychologist Susan Pinker.

Older people and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness - you might have seen Age UK's campaign with the powerful strapline 'No one should have no one' or the 'We all need friends' initiative by the charity Sense - but it's important to remember that anyone can be affected at any time.

Here at the Eden Project, we run an initiative called The Big Lunch, the UK's annual get-together for neighbours. Our research shows that over a third of people would feel happier if they knew their neighbours better and that getting together with local people for a bite to eat has a number of positive effects. Nine out of 10 people say holding a Big Lunch helps build a sense of community and 84% say it makes them feel better about their neighbourhood.

As Lara, who volunteered to organise a Big Lunch in Edinburgh last year, says: "Once you've chatted to someone over cake, what you've actually done, without noticing it, is broken down some imaginary barriers."

With some experts predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future, isn't it time we connected with the people on our own doorstep?

Five ways to get to know your neighbours better

1. Turn small talk into big talk

It only takes a simple hello and a comment about the weather to kick things off. So, next time you see your neighbour, take a minute to ask how they are. You could soon be chatting like old friends.

2. Lend a helping hand

Taking in a delivery (no queuing at the post office - thank you, lovely neighbour!), watering their plants when they are on holiday, lending them some milk when they have a cereal emergency... it doesn't take much to be a helpful neighbour.

3. Share time (and cake)

Why not organise a get-together for your whole street? That way, everyone gets to meet up at the same time and enjoy a few hours bonding over a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Go big with a street party or just invite your nearest neighbours to a barbecue at home.

4. Discover a common interest

Find out about your neighbours' hobbies and interests and arrange to do them together. You could set up a gardening society, a book club or an art group, for example. Who knows... maybe you and the people at number 11 are kindred spirits.

5. Get involved in Neighbourhood Watch

Crime and anti-social behaviour are common concerns for many communities. Find out if your street is part of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme - if not, why not start one yourself?

If you'd like to take part in The Big Lunch by hosting a street party or community event on Sunday 7 June 2015, you can sign up for a free planning pack at The Big Lunch is led by the Eden Project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and supported by Halifax and Asda.