Please click each section heading for the full text of that section. Footnotes link to the bottom of this page.
1. Social bonds (connections within a community defined by, for example, ethnic, national or religious identity); 2. Social bridges (with members of other communities); and 3. Social links (with institutions, including local and central government services).Ager & Strang, 2004, Indicators of Integration (PDF)
Social Attitudes Survey
The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) carries out annual social attitude surveys across Scotland, with a sample of around 1500 people per question. While it is not possible to divide responses by region, there are some interesting points to note, covering Scotland as a whole. The most recent survey relevant to Social Connections was in 2015: 
A2.1 “People from outside Britain who come to live in Scotland make the country a better place.” Since 2006, there has been a slight increase in the number of respondents who agree with this statement, and slight decrease in the number who disagree.
A2.3 “Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more people from Eastern Europe came to live in Scotland.” 38% of respondents agreed; 41% disagreed.
A2.4 “Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more black and Asian people came to live in Scotland.” 34% agreed; 33% disagreed.
A3.1 Feelings if a close relative married or formed a long term-relationship with someone who was: Muslim: 49% happy; 20% unhappy. Black/Asian: 62% happy; 5% unhappy. Gypsy/Traveller 37% happy; 32% unhappy.
“Have equal opportunities for Black and Asian people gone too far or not far enough?” 16% of respondents believed it had gone too far; 32% believed that it had not gone far enough. Younger people and people with higher qualifications tended to answer the latter, while older people and those with lower qualifications were more inclined to answer the former.
Key Missing Data
Much of the data that would help assess social bridges, bonds and links is simply not available. Data on the ethnicity of members does not appear to be collected by trade unions, political parties, voluntary organisations, etc. Local authorities do not consistently collect ethnicity data on councillors, council employees or service users. According to a Scotland-wide survey, the average councillor is a ‘white’ Scottish man, married, aged 50-59, “who is a well-educated homeowner from a managerial or professional occupation.” These results were similar to previous studies. The most recent Aberdeen City Voice survey does not include any information about ethnicity or nationality. 
Qualitative Data from Relevant Local Research
Community members who attended the online roundtable event discussed how a sense of belonging was taken away during and after the Brexit campaign. They described how people in their communities stopped using their home languages outside, to prevent being targeted as ‘those migrants,’ which had a negative effect on their sense of belonging and feeling welcome.
GREC: Aberdeen Equality Outcomes Survey & Focus Groups (2020)
In a survey conducted during August and September 2020, more than two-thirds of ethnic minority participants felt that Aberdeen was welcoming, and more than half felt included in their local communities. Figures were similar for Scottish/British participants.
Around a quarter of all participants felt they had been excluded from cultural activities because of protected characteristics, and they were generally part of ethnic minority groups, including half of participants from African, Caribbean or Black backgrounds. The negative experiences they described in comments mentioned racism and being concerned due to previous attacks. A few participants were also targeted by racist comments at sports facilities, but around half of ethnic minority participants enjoyed exercising at a gym, sports centre or swimming pool.
Feedback from the focus groups highlighted that places of worship are key places to socialise for the African community, so their closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted this community’s sense of connectedness. Members of the Muslim community also discussed the impacts of the mosques being closed, but they spoke positively about the supportive nature of their local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In broader terms, African participants identified a problem in the lack of representatives from their community in senior positions, both in the public and private sector, and during the development of new strategies and plans. European minority ethnic communities had mixed responses about feeling safe and welcomed in Aberdeen, with participants discussing positive experiences, but also challenges to access some services. To overcome these issues, participants suggested an increased focus on bringing people of different communities and cultures together, and an increased understanding of diversity to promote positive community relations.
Elphinstone Institute: Home-Hame-Дом-Dom Project (2019-2020) 
Home-Hame-Дом-Dom was a creative learning project, bringing people from different backgrounds together to build a sense of community and belonging in the North East. The project aimed to facilitate deeper engagement of Eastern European migrant communities and encourage meaningful integration with the indigenous populations, as social isolation and loneliness were identified as a considerable issue for parents and older migrants.
The evaluation report describes how activities and events, such as photography, sewing, and dance, helped participants from diverse cultural backgrounds increase their sense of connectedness and integration. In a follow-up survey both migrant and Scottish participants reported positive outcomes, including meeting new people, making new friends and professional contacts, learning new skills or developing existing ones, learning something new about other cultures, and improving language skills and confidence.
Building personal connections was very important to participants, especially as isolation increased during lockdowns, and connections tended to ‘ripple out’ into generating more connections. The project helped to improve integration and gave participants an opportunity to express their feelings, and also created moments of serendipity, when unexpected opportunities arose.
There were several relevant lessons learned through the implementation of this project: 
- Translating the project documentation into the main community languages attracted a wider range of participants.
- Polish and Doric classes challenged English as the only important language for integration.
- Language skills developed informal methods – there are other options to learn a language besides a formal class, with images and videos key to making learning accessible.
- Learning through practical activities worked well to bring people together and integrate without focusing explicitly on language and integration. The creative nature of the activities helped to engage participants, shifting focus away from what might be perceived as threatening or embarrassing, and technology (e.g., translation apps) helped people to learn together.
- Spaces played a relevant role, as community centres did not attract migrants to participate. Acknowledging the need for flexibility, venues were identified that had meaning for participants, so they felt welcomed and safe.
- Fostering cultural democracy was important, along with making all activities as non-hierarchical as possible. All forms and expressions of culture were valued equally – including vernacular culture. Co-creation and process took priority over the ‘end product’ of the arts activities.
Research from 2018 and Earlier
For a more in-depth summary of this research, including sample sizes and other details, please see How Fair Is North East Scotland 2018, available on grec.co.uk/research.
GREC ‘Migrants’ Pathways and Journeys in Aberdeen’ report (2017)
For newcomers, a key source of information was word of mouth within their own ethnic or language communities, including friends, family, and even local restaurants. However, if local networks were not aware of services or resources, a newcomer could miss out on the help they needed, and some people struggled to find others who spoke the same language. Points of contact with institutions included GPs and dentists, the local council, religious and community groups, community centres, local charities, and schools, colleges and universities.
GREC ‘Life in Aberdeen’ and ‘Life in Aberdeenshire’ Surveys, 2018; Tackling Economic Barriers pilot study, 2017; GREC ‘Creating a Fairer and More Equal Aberdeen,’ 2016-17 
More than 80% of ethnic minority participants felt that Aberdeen/shire or their local neighbourhoods were welcoming places, and more than 70% felt part of their communities. The figures for Scottish/British participants were two-thirds and just over half. Just over half of both Scottish/British and ethnic minority participants said they were active in their local communities, and around 90% felt able to participate in public life.
More than three-quarters of ethnic minority participants felt that equality and diversity are welcomed and celebrated in Aberdeen, compared with two-thirds of Scottish/British participants, and three-quarters of both groups agreed that people from different nationalities get along well in their local area. At the same time, only around half of both groups felt there were good relations between communities. Around three-quarters of Scottish/British participants felt that ethnic minorities are treated with respect in the region, while a third of those from ethnic minority backgrounds disagreed with this statement.
There were similar levels of involvement in local groups between ethnic minority and Scottish/British participants – over two-thirds were involved in at least one group. A higher proportion of ethnic minority participants were involved with religious, cultural, community and parents’ groups, while Scottish/British participants were more involved with trade unions, charities, sports clubs, hobby groups, and political, campaigning or civic groups.
More than 80% of both ethnic minority and Scottish/British participants had friends who were different nationalities, and a slightly smaller proportion had friends who spoke a different first language. Unsurprisingly, participants who felt part of their communities were more likely to have diverse friendships.
Summary & Priorities
It is difficult to find existing data to build a clear picture of the social bridges, bonds and links that support integration across diverse communities. Most of the evidence that we have comes from four community surveys, the most recent undertaken in 2020. On the whole, the results of the surveys are positive as they consistently show a high proportion of ethnic minorities that felt that Aberdeen or North East Scotland is a welcoming place, and who feel they are part of their local communities. However, for these two indicators there was a decrease in the positive responses between 2017 and 2020 – not noted in the Scottish/British population – which may relate to the implementation of Brexit, as suggested by qualitative evidence.
Findings from 2016-18 surveys suggest that a high proportion of both ethnic minorities and Scottish/British participants are involved in community groups and have friendships across ethnic and language groups. The detrimental effect of Covid-19 in these and other indicators of social connectedness were highlighted by members of ethnic minorities, especially by those involved with faith communities. Considering this alongside the findings in other sections, more research is necessary to look into the experiences and feelings of people (from both ethnic minority and Scottish/British communities), in order to better understand the consequences of the pandemic and Brexit, especially in regeneration areas.
- Gaining a greater understanding of social bonds, bridges and links within regeneration areas in Grampian.
 There were 167 survey participants, including 73 from ethnic minority backgrounds.
 It should be noted that this is a summary of lessons learned – the full report includes more detail and examples.