Page last updated at 05:21 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 06:21 UK

Are we a nation of strangers?

By David Sillito
BBC News

Neighbours chatting in 1954
Young people seem less likely to know their neighbours today

Are we losing our friendly, sociable habits? Would we still leave our keys next door and do we even know who lives in our street?

More than a third (36%) of us would not trust anybody on our street with our keys, according to ICM research commissioned by the BBC.

Among 25 to 34 year olds that figure is almost a half (48%).

Meanwhile, more than one in five (22%) believes our neighbourhoods have become less friendly in the last five years.

The study of neighbourliness was aimed at finding out how much people interact with others on their own street.

BBC Breakfast visited a number of average neighbourhoods to see how neighbourliness has changed, among them Bolton Woods.

Lost amenities

Bolton Woods is an old urban mill village in Shipley, West Yorkshire.

It is the sort of place that used to epitomise close-knit Yorkshire life but Bill Mitchell, who has compiled an archive of local history, feels the people around him have less and less in common.

"Ask anybody what's happening in the village [and they'll say] 'I don't know'. But you ask them what's happening on Coronation Street or Emmerdale, some such tripe like that, and they'll tell you immediately."

It's whether you integrate and people don't integrate into the community these days
Bill Mitchell, of Bolton Woods

He puts it down to what the village has lost, the institutions that used to bring people together.

Over the years, Bolton Woods has lost four mills, the church, three chapels, the library, the doctor's surgery, 24 shops and the state primary school.

The people are much the same. There is work and money in their pockets but they don't have any reason to get to know one another in the way they once did and it has led to a divide between young and old.

Bill Mitchell feels he has nothing in common with those around him.

"They don't put anything into the community. It's whether you integrate - and people don't integrate into the community these days."

Locked doors

The culture of running local voluntary organisations has also declined.

The pantomime, the concert parties, the glee club and dozens of other local activities have disappeared.

Even the luncheon club for the elderly has seen its numbers dwindle. One stalwart, Hilda Cartwright, bemoaned how things have changed.

"Everybody knew everybody, you could go in people's houses and talk, leave your door open. You can't do that now, can you?"

Younger families say they hardly see anyone outside their immediate circle.

Some work nights, others simply told us that "nowadays you keep yourself to yourself".

'People change'

There are pockets of the old neighbourliness, though.

Peter McKeown was full of praise for the people around him.

"They're right nice neighbours, it's quietened a heck of a lot."

But when I asked how many he would trust with his keys, he looked a little chastened.

"Less than a quarter. I would have expected more but you know, people change, people change for the worst."

Bolton Hall Lane in Bolton Woods is a patchwork of friendships, near neighbours looking to see curtains pulled back and greetings on the street. But the overall feeling was of an increasing distrust.

At the community centre, the repeated comment was that young and old especially had stopped talking to each other.

  • BBC Breakfast is running a series of films from around Britain looking at three average neighbourhoods to see how things have changed.

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