elcome to the first edition of Solitude magazine. I would like to start by asking you a question. Out of all the family members and friends you know, how many of them do you think are living a life under a dark cloud of loneliness, anxious to socialise with those around them? Inside this magazine, Solitude aims to share articles discussing loneliness, specifically in London, ways in which these feelings can be tackled and firsthand interviews with those struggling to find a sense of purpose in a city that we tend to call home. For many people,
a city is a place of work, socialising and where millions live. But for the people living within a city like London, that offers great social aspects to life, there are thousands that get forgotten about and feel as though they are swept under the rug of this concrete metropolis. These articles are designed to help people of all ages understand a sense of self-worth, to ensure that they no longer feel forgotten about, and give the extra encouragement to change peopleâ€™s perspectives on the sense of isolation they feel on a day-to day basis. - Zoe Barrett
9: Loneliness in the City 10: What You Should Know About Loneliness in London 14: What is the difference between isolating in the city over rural areas? 16: What does loneliness in the city mean to you? 20: What is your definition of isolation? 22: Tackling Loneliness 28: Changing Perceptions of Loneliness
oneliness is not just a sad feeling that we need to get rid of because we want people to be slightly happier. Loneliness is dangerous. People suffering from loneliness are in a constant fight-orflight mode, a stress mode. These increased stress levels lead to a number of things, but there are some consequences that are more severe than others. Several studies have shown that feeling lonely results in a 29% increased risk of heart disease. Feeling lonely also increases the risk of having a stroke by 32%. You might not believe it, but when it comes to heart disease, loneliness is a bigger killer than obesity.
on our crowded trains and sidewalks. Instead, loneliness is also a function of our perception of the quality of our relationships and support networks. London is ranked as one of the loneliest cities in the world. Britain has over 9 million lonely people, and the problem is growing. Loneliness is bad for our communities, bad for our health and wellbeing and bad for business. It can be as harmful to our health as smoking. It’s clear more needs to be done to tackle this growing issue. But what? Of course, we can all be better neighbours, citizens and friends, and smile at strangers in the street. But that alone isn’t enough.
Loneliness has become a pandemic. It does not discriminate on age or gender or borders. It happens all over the world, and it happens most frequently to those of us who are already vulnerable. The state of loneliness isn’t just defined by how many people you’re surrounded with, or how many people you know— if that were the case, city dwellers would hardly be feeling so despondent
A: “You’re always surrounded by people so it takes more adjusting going from one extreme to the other” A: “In a city, you are surrounded by other people who all seem to have somewhere else to be so it may feel like you don’t matter” A: “I used to spend the summers with my grandparents at their farm in France, I’d only see about 5 people a day from no closer than 50 metres. To think if I walked through waterloo station at rush hour I’d probably be in contact with more people in 2 mins than I did for those whole summers” A: “I think because everyone is closer physically, you can actually feel isolated than someone who lives in a cottage in a small village for example” A: “In the city, you feel you are constantly watched and even more trapped.” A: “I think you can feel isolated in a city because of the quantity of people around you but without any meaningful interaction on a day to day basis” A: “The city is full of people rushing here and there” A: “Isolation in cities feels more like emotions, everyone is so disconnected from life and so engaged in their technology. It’s hard not to feel isolated even if you’re surrounded by people” A: “In a big city, you are anonymous” A: “City dwellers predominantly look out for themselves”
A: “Shouting in an enormous cavern” A: “Disconnected, disjointed, surreal” A: “It can be worse, as you know there are lots of people nearby but you often have no contact with them” A: “It’s a strange idea, because London is one of the most densely populated areas in the country. You take the tube with people even go to the loo with people in your vicinity. Perhaps that physical overexposure of the city triggers a mental isolation by which we can exert control and distance where we really have none. I also think ideas around skin deep value around built up guns like London don’t help. If everyone presents their best self you feel as if you can’t compete, another way to feel lonely” A: “Loneliness is a state of mind” 16
A: “In a city, you can be surrounded by lots of busy people but without a personal connection you can feel lost and lonely. It can feel like no one has time to stop and notice you as they go about their own busy lives” A: “When you can see everyone from your window going about their business, but you have nothing to do” A: “The city is busy but you walk alone. In many ways, you can be around lots of people but still feel alone” A: “Cities are impersonal particularly for people who do not have the confidence to engage with strangers or establish themselves in the community. Some may be new to a city and may never engage with those around them. This can have an impact on their mental wellbeing” A: “Busy loneliness. Priority is work and productivity rather than people” A: “Knowing there’s hundreds of people around you but feeling alone in the crowd” A: “People on their phones, barely any human interaction, no laughter or smiles” A: “It’s like you’re invisible. No one can see or hear you and they just carry on with their daily lives around you” A: “Feeling you are in a bubble watching the world go by” A: “Like being in a very crowded room where no one bothers to make the time for a new person. They appear to be ‘so busy’ and occupied. A clique that you don’t belong to” A: “Overcrowded already, when I came, no one moved an inch, as I stepped into the crush, I’ll make no mark, before I slip out again” A: “In a city, it can be especially lonely: streets full of strangers, no friends to chat to. Everyone else appears to be fine and contented, but they may be thinking I look fine too” 17
“It’s like being in a dark tunnel with no light at the end” “Feeling cut off from the world” “In a strange way, it is freeing. The level of freedom only really exists when you do not care what the outside world is doing. What someone else thinks or is doing is none of my business” “Feeling lonely. No one to talk to” “Isolation is lack of contact with family and friends” “Surreal, testing, lonely, occasionally peaceful” “Being secluded somewhere physically or emotionally and staying there” “A kind of imprisonment inside of one’s home” “To be cut off from the rest of society”
hile the stats seem bleak, the outlook doesn’t have to be. More and more groups are taking positive action, bringing Londoners together across different generations and backgrounds.
Transforming public reducing waste:
So far, ideas trialled have included transforming a declining market into a ‘Public Lounge’ and handing out free craft kits on public transport to encourage interaction in what is arguably London’s least-sociable shared space.
From local borough councils and citywide collectives to more grassroots neighbourhood projects. People are working hard to make London less lonely. Of course, there’s a lot of hard graft involved. But there’s also a lot of fun to be had by bringing people together across the city.
You can connect people with lots of small changes, or with one simple idea. For the charity FoodCycle, it’s all about bringing people together to cook eat and chat. It’s been running across the UK as well as several London boroughs since 2009. Volunteers cook meals made from ingredients which would otherwise go to waste. In the past ten years, they’ve served 1 million meals to their guests.
A multi-national construction company and non-profit action group might not be an obvious partnership, but in October 2018 Lendlease and Collectively launched The Loneliness Lab. It’s one of the bigger initiatives in the city, created as an 18-month-long project involving artists, NGOs, designers, community groups and local authorities with pilot projects being developed across London in 2019. One of the core ideas is to re-think and redesign place and space to encourage communal experience.
“We started because we thought that so much perfectly good food is being thrown away every day. Yet people are going hungry or feeling isolated. When they could be sitting down and sharing a healthy free meal with each other, and meeting new people. I love what we have achieved and are achieving. By using food waste, we
bring people together feeding bellies not bins. But we’re also impacting on loneliness and growing real friendships amongst our guests.” explains Sophie Tebbits, Head of Programmes.
same time.” — Tiah Harrison, Generation Meet. It’s early days, but in its current iteration, Generation Meet connects users with telephone and face-to-face befriending services. Times are scheduled for an older person and their volunteer befriendee to talk or meet up. That could be anything from knitting and wine tasting to gardening. The data the user punches in finds local meetups in their area.
Volunteering: Volunteering in general is a good way to combat loneliness, as suggested by Mind and other organisations. Not sure where to start? The Team London website lets you filter by interest/borough/skillset/ etc. Covering anything from driving, to tutoring, skill sharing, mentoring and a whole lot more. If you don’t have tonnes of spare time or can’t make a long-term commitment then there’s always speed mentoring.
London community projects: Some projects are borough or neighbourhood focused. In east London, Everyone, Everyday is a network of hundreds of people working on different projects. It runs three pop-up shops. But they don’t sell things. Instead, they’re geared towards practical and useful activities. From money-saving tips and skills to an informal creche (where parents take turns to look after the children) and collaborative business working.
From URL to IRL: taking connections offline: Although we’re all collectively hiding behind screens more, technology can still work to combat isolation. There are several Meetup groups set up to help Londoners meet each other. Students at 23 Code Street decided to use their coding skills to help older and younger generations of Londoners to connect IRL. For their graduation project, Tiah Harrison and her fellow students developed an app called Generation Meet. At the time of their course, winter was on the way. People naturally stay in more, so they decided to make something to address isolation.
Bringing down walls: Bridging the old north vs south London rivalry is North London Cares and South London Cares. The Cares community networks connect older and younger generations through social clubs. These involve anything from dancing to podcasting and games nights, as well as befriending and local outreach schemes. In west London, Action West London is a registered charity and social enterprise focused on some of the root causes of loneliness. Its key objectives are to help people with securing employment, education and self-employment/business opportunities.
“One of the problems was trying to tie down who should be the target audience. It’s more widely known that the elderly experience loneliness. But they aren’t the only ones. We didn’t want to just tailor the website to the elderly. It’s for anyone who feels loneliness. However, trying to tailor a website and make it accessible for all is difficult. It was trying to make the website attractive to everyone, but accessible at the
How to start your own London community project: There isn’t a project or g:roup in your area and you want to get one going? Start by 24
taking a look at the results and insights of existing London community projects. The Participatory City Foundation (who worked in partnership with Barking and Dagenham to launch Everyone, Everyday) outlined a set of common principles for a successful community project. They include: • No or low cost with a low time commitment • Simple and straightforward • Many opportunities with a wide variety • Create an inclusive culture • 100% open—no stigma FoodCycle are also always on the lookout for new opportunities, and new areas to expand to. In the meantime, Sophie Tebbits advises asking the community what they would like in the first instance, then get as many different people involved as possible to generate ideas and be open to feedback. Whether it’s leading or joining a community project, offering our time and skills, or chewing the fat over a hot meal, most of us Londoners are just trying to find common ground, and there’s plenty of it about.
e careful when comparing yourself to others: It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others. We all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside.
Talking therapies: You might feel that you know plenty of people, but what is actually wrong is that you don’t feel close to them, or they don’t give you the care and attention you need. In this situation it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family.
For example on social media, we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely.
If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to the people you know, you could try speaking with a therapist or a using a peer support service.
It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off.
“Be brave and reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face; you could share a post on social media.”
“I sometimes feel lonely when I am overwhelmed by human information – the news, social media, TV, negative gossip etc. – I feel so separate and different to most people.”
Talking therapies allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them. For example, therapy can provide a space for you to discuss the emotional problems that make it hard for
you to form satisfying relationships.
might want to use drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult feelings about yourself, in the long run they can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems.
If anxiety about social situations has made you feel isolated, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help. This focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.
“I never feel lonely when I’m in nature. I feel more connected than ever when I’m walking alone through a wood or by a river.”
Look after yourself: Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better. Think about how some of the following are affecting how you feel and whether you can do anything to change them:
Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something isn’t working for you (or doesn’t feel possible just now), you can try something else, or come back to it another time.
• Try to get enough sleep. Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel. • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing, and some people find it helps improve their self-esteem. • Spend time outside. Spending time in green space can help your wellbeing. • Spend time with animals. Some people find spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through owning a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment. If you find being around animals helpful, you could try visiting a local community or city farm - the organisation Social Farms and Gardens has a list of outdoor community projects across the UK, many of which have animals available to the public. • Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you
Sources: pg. 9 - The Loneliness Lab (2019), â€˜All the lonely peopleâ€™ TEDxArendal, Karen Dolva (2017), Our Cities are Designed for Loneliness, Ankita Rao (2018) pg. 10 - The Loneliness Lab (2019) pg. 22 - Londoncheapo.com, Becky Matthews (2019) pg. 28 - mind.org.uk (2019) 31