A new UK study has revealed the friendly people of Hebden Bridge are among the nation’s most sociable residents.
Pioneering people of the town are at the forefront of the national crusade to reintegrate communities and tackle social isolation.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation study involved street surveys; site observations at Dodnaze estate, Blackshaw Head and Hebden Bridge Women’s Institute; data analysis; and individual interviews with town residents, ‘hill dwellers’, long-term residents and new arrivals.
The study found local residents to be a friendly bunch who look out for each other and people feel comfortable to ask a neighbour for a favour - helping to tackle the social epidemic of isolation in older people.
The University of Central Lancashire report found that the availability of public space and shared spaces enable people who are not necessarily connected to come into contact with one another. Long rows of terraced housing, built to house the mill workforce, encourage socialisation through shared access and common spaces.
The national decline of cohesive communities has been accelerated by the closure of the Post Office, shops and pubs and this is also evident in Hebden Bridge. But, the report found, the survival of small businesses and the transformation of the town hall as a community hub has helped retain connections between people otherwise at risk of social isolation.
The report found: “In Hebden Bridge there is a wealth of small businesses and co-operative ventures and these often function as local hubs and help foster kindliness. Having social enterprises whose business aims were about more than the bottom-line seemed to express positive values about care and human connection that were shared across the older and newer communities.”
Digitally, the town’s use of social media was recognised for encouraging socialisation among residents.
Ilona Haslewood, programme manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Having an informal network of people for help, support and friendship is important for everyone, as our research has highlighted. I’m very pleased that the project’s findings are being used by Calderdale Council to strengthen its work with isolated people.”
Calderdale Council has invested £1 million across Calderdale to tackle loneliness and Hebden Bridge is one of the four hubs offering activities aimed at promoting health and well-being.
Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Social Care, Coun Ann McAllister, said: “By helping people to come together through shared interests, our community hubs are providing an informal way for people to make friends and break down barriers, increasing their likelihood of reaching out to each other and providing ongoing support.
“Our work to end loneliness in Calderdale is well underway, with key teams set up to make a difference to the lives of lonely and isolated people.”
Amy Leader, of Hebden Bridge , said: “The Joseph Rowntree Foundation research is very timely for our role as a community hub in the Calderdale Council’s Staying Well pilot.
“We are able to take this up to date material and use it in a practical way; helping our decision making and informing how we work with groups and businesses in the area to create meaningful interventions to combat isolation in our community.”
The study concluded that Hebden Bridge has successfully metamorphosed from a traditional early 20th century thriving mill town, through a depressed 1960s high unemployment town, to a contemporary town buzzing with individuality and sociality “where social change is encouraged by both older traditional communities and newer more liberal incomers.”
Modern forms of sociality, having rejuvinated older forms of neighbourhood-based solidarity, have avoided the pitfall of either idealising or denigrating the new, or romanticising or dismissing the old,” the report stated.