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Research into changes in neighbourhood communication revealed

23 March 2012

The findings of a new research project to explore how people in Kent communicate in their local communities has been released.

‘Neighbours Online’ a project led by Dr Agnes Gulyas from the Department of Media, Art and Design at Canterbury Christ Church University focussed on how new technologies, such as social media are affecting and shaping local communication.

Results show a growing gap between how different generations communicate within their communities.

Findings from the study revealed that almost 70 per cent (68%) of older people (70+) talked to people in their local community daily, compared to fewer than 40 per cent (39%) of 18-29 year olds. The evidence pointing to the emergence and greater use of new communication tools, such as social media channels as one of the reasons for the disparity.

The results also show how communities get their information, with over fifty per cent (50.3%) of people talking face-to-face. The survey revealed the local newspaper as the most popular way for people to get their information with over sixty five per cent of people finding out local information that way (65.8%). Community newsletters also fared well with 37.2 per cent.

Surprisingly, social networking recorded only 12% as a way for people to get community information, despite over 40% (42.9%) of 18-29 year olds using social media in the last 12 months to communicate about community issues. The opposite can be said for the older generation with 36.1% contributing to a community newsletter and only 2.8% using social media.

Dr Agnes Gulyas, said: “It’s really encouraging to see people still have a positive view of their local communities in Kent, especially the older generation and those living in more rural locations. What’s important is to ensure that this community outlook does not disappear with technological developments and new tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, hold communities together, rather than widen a gap between generations or urban and rural areas.

“The ways people communicate in their local communities are changing. In our survey 48.9% of respondents reported that they use online tools more compared to three years ago. But our results also show that there is a digital divide in local communication according to particular socio-demographic features, especially age and where people live. It is important that this aspect is taken into account and reflected upon in local communities and by local organisations and politicians in their communication strategies. If not, there is a danger that sections of their communities are left behind and excluded from the buzz of community life." 

The survey also revealed that how people communicate locally is influenced by whether they have children or not. People with children tended to use more traditional forms of media to communicate about local issues, alongside face-to-face communication to get information about local community issues and events. Over 30% (30.3%) of people with children contributed to a community newsletter in the last year, whereas only 15.7% of people without children did. The latter, however, are more likely to use social media tools.

Interestingly, the location of a community also had a significant impact on the communication’s activity and tools that people used. People living in rural areas were almost over four times more likely (38.8% vs 9.4%) to write a piece in a local community newsletter, compared to their urban counterparts. Whilst people in urban areas would also choose to communicate via social media about community issues, compared to people living in rural areas (40% vs 14.1%).

Similarly, the perceptions of a community feel where people did things together was reflected more positively by people living in rural areas (46.3% thought people helped each other) compared to those living in urban areas (4.7%).

The research findings are the first part of a wider research project, funded by a Knowledge Exchange HEIF grant, and is calling for local groups to participate in the next phase of the study. Groups will be provided with a social media toolkit to help them enhance their communication and improve the cohesion of their local communities.  

Any local community groups or organisations who are interested in developing their social media presence should contact Dr Gulyas via agnes.gulyas@canterbury.ac.uk.

/Ends

Notes to Editor

About the study

A questionnaire survey and focus groups were carried out in May-August 2011 in different parts of Kent. The questionnaire was conducted via face-to-face on high streets and farmers markets using random stratified sampling in seven locations in Kent: Canterbury, Elham, Maidstone, Chartham, Ramsgate, Cliftonville and Horsmonden. A total of 325 people completed the survey.

A copy of the summary document from the report is available on request.

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With nearly 20,000 students, and five campuses across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

•We are the third highest university in England for student employability, with 94.3% of our recent graduates in employment or further study six months after graduating*.

•Christ Church is the number one choice for local people looking to study at university in Kent (2010 UCAS).

•We are the South East’s largest provider of courses for public service careers (outside of London).

•2012 is the University’s Golden Jubilee, reflecting on 50 years of higher education and innovation.

*2009/10 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey

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