In 2020 we will feel the consequences of loneliness in all the facets of our individualistic society. The South Korean language has recently added three new words to its vocabulary, all referring to activities that people do all by themselves. Honbap (eating alone), Honsul (drinking alone) and Honeyong (going to the movies alone). The hikikomori (loners) are in danger of becoming a lost generation of over 2 million young Japanese. In Belgium, the series Eenzaam by Xaveir Taveirne on Canvas has stirred up a lot. We see loneliness not only in all layers and social classes of our society, but also in various age groups.
Recent British research shows that 70% of university and college students feel lonely. Many students struggle to maintain healthy daily routines and experience academic, social and financial pressures almost daily. In addition, about a third of students indicate that they have mental health problems. By comparison, according to Age UK, more than 1.7 million senior citizens in the UK say they are alone for more than a month without speaking to friends, neighbours or family members.
Fortunately, we are seeing initiatives emerging at many organisations and brands to tackle loneliness in society. These lead to reflection, inspiration, solutions and above all hope.
Two British student housing companies, Student.com and Student Roost, set up the collaborative project Together with the care institution Sheffcare in September 2019. Together is an initiative that connects university students with residents of retirement homes. The British programme aims to encourage intergenerational relationships between students and senior citizens. British studies have shown that these two groups suffer from a high degree of loneliness. The programme initially consists of 12 students, who are all linked to an elderly person. During the first semester of 2019/20 students will do intergenerationally voluntary work and spend time with their ‘Together’ buddy to build friendships – share memories and advice. Based on commitment to the initiative, the aim is to implement the model in other university cities in the UK.
Living alone in the city can be expensive and lonely. Co-living is a nice solution. In 2021 the American company Starcity opens the largest co-living complex in the world in San Jose, California. Renters of the 800 units have access to a communal kitchen and living space, as well as services such as laundry and dog-walking. Rents range from $800 to $2,500 per month. Half of the apartments are reserved for those earning less than 80% of the city’s average income. In the U.S., the number of units offered by large co-living companies will triple in the coming years to 10,000 units.
An initiative that summarises a Co-living and the Together project is Connect Generations. This is another way of connecting students and older people. This is done by letting them live together. Students are allowed to live in nursing homes for low living costs. But on the condition that they undertake activities with the elderly.
According to Gitta Klopper, inventor and project leader, Connect Generations is a real success: “Special things happen here every day. But some encounters make an extra impression. The atmosphere at the Drie Hoven nursing home in Amsterdam, for example. Students moved in and created a warm and cosy home together with the residents”.