Conversation can reduce loneliness, says expert

The Duchess of Cornwall enjoys the Big Lunch at Paxcroft Mead, Trowbridge, last year

Sir Tim Smit KBE, founding director of the Eden Project and co-founder of The Big Lunch, says the significance of small talk shouldn’t be underestimated

First published in News
Last updated

Making small talk with a neighbour doesn’t always come naturally for people in the South West but when they make the effort they feel happier, says a survey carried out by Lottery-funded initiative The Big Lunch, the UK’s annual get-together.

It found that more than 70 per cent of people in the South West said that small talk makes them feel happier, despite it not coming naturally for 40 per cent of those who responded.

Nearly 60 per cent of people in the South West do make small talk with their neighbours on a regular basis and more than 50 per cent in the region even go out of their way to start a conversation with a neighbour.

More than 70 per cent of those who do make small talk claim that a simple conversation with a neighbour makes them feel more in touch with the rest of their community.

Small talk comes more easily to the older generation, with 72 per cent of over 55s saying it comes naturally compared to just 35 per cent of under 35s.

And 20 per cent of under 25s say that they do not talk at all with their neighbours.

The study found that although not everyone feels comfortable making small talk with their neighbours, 23 per cent say they are flattered by the interest when a neighbour makes the effort to talk to them with 36 per cent saying it makes them feel that they matter.

Clinical psychologist Tanya Byron said: “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.”

When it comes to the motivation behind small talk, 40 per cent of respondents said they wanted to enquire about someone’s wellbeing, while only 12 per cent used small talk as a means to an end, for example asking their neighbour for a favour.

Researchers found that in the South West, the weather is the most popular subject when starting a conversation, followed by holidays and local events taking place in the community.

Children, enquiring about a person’s wellbeing, or the opportunity to gossip are also among the popular themes when making small talk.

Top ten small talk subjects -

  • 1, Weather
  • 2, Holidays
  • 3, Local events happening in the community
  • 4, Enquiring about well-being
  • 5, Your/their children
  • 6, Gossip or news about another neighbour
  • 7, Work
  • 8, National news/current affairs
  • 9, Traffic
  • 10, The current view

The garden provides the top location for small talk, whether hanging out the washing, washing the car or other outdoor chores.

Bumping in to neighbours in the local shops or pub also provides small talk meeting points.

Sir Tim Smit KBE, founding director of the Eden Project and co-founder of The Big Lunch, which commissioned the research, said: ‘’The significance of small talk shouldn’t be underestimated.

"It might seem trivial but it can have a powerful impact on people.

"Small talk might not always come easily and can be awkward to initiate, but taking the time to start conversation can lead to big things.

“Small talk is in fact ‘big talk’ - it’s the code or tool which enables us to overcome our shyness.

"This is where The Big Lunch comes in – it’s the ice-breaker that is needed to convert strangers into possible friends or acquaintances.

"Feedback from previous years has shown that almost everyone who takes part in a Big Lunch feels closer to their neighbours as a result with two thirds going on to hold other events in their community afterwards proving it is not just about one day it’s about what happens before and after the event.”

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.

Neighbours in the South West are being encouraged to host a Big Lunch event in their communities on Sunday, June 1, 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 www.thebiglunch.com to get their events off the ground.

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