The opportunity to design out loneliness

March 29, 2019   By David Symons, Future Ready Global Leader, Director, WSP

“I just found it really difficult to get out and meet people” Mary Evans says. “I was in my first month at university, in a new city surrounded by other freshers and everyone else looked like they were having a great time. And I was hating it.”

Mark told us “After my mum died, it was just really difficult to get out of my flat. Not physically but the barrier to actually putting my hand on the handle pressing it down and stepping outside was too much for me. So I stayed in. Watched rubbish TV. Ordered food online. And that was how I lived.”

NLGN’s latest Innovating Briefing “Tackling Loneliness”, launched today, explores the impact of experiences such as these and the approaches councils are taking to tackle loneliness. These approaches are all the more welcome because they illustrate that taking a preventative approach, addressing issues at the root, is a far cheaper approach than curing the symptoms once they emerge. The three detailed case studies provide ample evidence of the positive impacts sometimes simple interventions can produce.

Loneliness is common. In a recent BBC survey 1 in 5 Brits say they’re lonely. And it’s not just older people. Our WSP research shows that students, ethnic minorities and disabled people are more likely to suffer. On average people across the world who live in cities know the names of 3 neighbours or fewer. In UK flats 70% know the name of nobody else who lives in their block.

Loneliness is uncomfortable. We don’t like to really think about it. And yet we can all think of a time that we were lonely. The pleasure of being able to do just what we wanted to do in the first instance, but then the creeping emptiness. The lack of someone to share a story with, ask how your day’s been or to put their arms around you.

And yet there are solutions. There are charities and no shortage of clubs and societies that provide support and ways to meet people. Councils have an important role to play, as do urban designers and planners, like WSP. Loneliness requires action across sectors.

At WSP we can make it easier to walk rather than drive. We can design cafes close to new developments. We can help renovate libraries, overbuilt with homes to provide the finance. We can put benches into green spaces so it’s a pleasure to get outside and relax. And we can help challenge every member of our team to design future ready projects so research is put into practice – such as at Chapelton, near Aberdeen.

No single organisation can solve loneliness in the UK. But together we can have huge impact. At WSP we’re committed to being at the heart of it.

David Symons leads WSP’s global Future Ready Innovation Programme. Future Ready aims to see the future more clearly and challenge all of WSP’s 48,000 people to work with clients to design for this future as well as today’s design standards and codes. He can be contacted at david.symons@wsp.com

NLGN Innovation Briefings are available exclusively for NLGN members. For more information about NLGN membership please contact Richard Nelmes, Head of Network on rnelmes@newlocal.org.uk.

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