The rise of urban loneliness across England & Wales has been clear to see over recent years
As a result, we've decided to act and will be attempting to improve Urban Loneliness through our inclusivity
A 2018 survey from The Economist revealed that more than two in ten adults in the UK often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.
A similar piece of research released in October 2018 by the BBC also found that a third of Brits said they often or very often feel lonely.
The UK is in the grips of a loneliness epidemic, and its impact is concerning – scientists found in a 2017 report that loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
The number of single households is on the rise, and due to increase by a quarter (1.7m) by 2039, according to government projections. Therefore, many working-age Britons spend a sizeable chunk of their time commuting, getting their heads down at work, and coming home in the evening to an empty house.
Slipping into this routine can see isolation quickly becoming the norm, with many people not realising how little social interaction they’re experiencing day-to-day for some time. Big cities tend to lack the tight-knit community feel often found in smaller towns and villages, making urban loneliness especially widespread in this day and age.
However, the way in which we inhabit our cities presents the UK with a unique opportunity to help eradicate the loneliness problem creeping into our society. The rise of initiatives such as build-to-rent and co-living is seeing ‘Generation Rent’ live in a more connected, sociable way, as developers create schemes with ample shared space and communal facilities.
It’s crucial, though, that once a developer has finished constructing a scheme, the notion of encouraging interaction isn’t forgotten – and Kate Magill, Associate Director for the North West at Mainstay Residential, believes it is the responsibility of a Managing Agent to pick up the mantle.
Kate manages 14 buildings across the region, including the Urban Splash-built Timber Wharf/MoHo/Burton Place portfolio in Manchester. Her team has also recently been instructed on Downtown, an upmarket scheme in Salford.
“As property managers, we’re finding more and more that we’re having to adopt a ‘lifestyle management’ approach – and there’s so much we’re doing within that which is fundamental to stopping people experiencing loneliness. There’s a young community in Downtown, and a lot of students,” Kate explains. “In particular, we’ve seen a large number of international students decide to call Downtown home, many of whom don’t speak English as a first language.”
“These demographics – young people, students, people possibly living away from home for the first time, people who aren’t native English speakers – can be particularly susceptible to feeling lonely, as they’re trying to find their feet in a new city.
“That’s why we as property managers need to ensure we’re aware and on hand to help.”
Historically, apartment blocks have looked to welcome and integrate residents by putting on occasional welcome drinks. However, Kate believes that in the current climate, it’s important to think bigger – and more inclusively.
“It’s about offering residents a balance of practical solutions and interesting events which will actually resonate with them. For example, many of Downtown’s residents speak Mandarin – so we’ve understood that there might be a language barrier and have updated all our signage and documents to include both English and Mandarin.
“Feeling ‘othered’ can be a big contributor to loneliness and isolation, so we want to be sure that anybody living in Downtown feels welcome and safe. We always encourage our site teams to speak to residents and get to know them.
“We also do inductions in foreign languages and make sure that we’re equipping our residents with the practical tools they’ll need to feel comfortable and confident in their new homes – so our team might teach new tenants how to use their boilers or their dishwashers. We’ll also be holding cooking classes and teaching them how to be savvy with money. All of these little things help to ensure residents are looking after themselves mentally, which will in turn help them feel confident and secure to begin forming relationships with others.
“The other side of the coin is then providing residents with fun, relaxed events that they can socialise at. We hold regular mixers at the local pub over on Timber Wharf, and at Downtown once phase two completes we’ll have the facilities to hold things like wellness classes and yoga sessions.”
“There’ll be lots of shared space like a gym and a business hub once that all comes together, which means we’ll be able to boost our resident engagement strategy even more.”
Beyond the buildings they manage, though, Mainstay also looks to integrate occupiers into the wider cities they’re living in, with the team staying up to speed with everything happening locally and making tailored recommendations of things to do and see for residents. Kate and her colleagues have also in the past arranged tours with Manchester City Council so that Mainstay residents can get to know the city.
“It’s not just about the building, it’s about the community,” Kate concludes. “A young person could live in the plushest apartment block possible but still feel cut off from other people that live there and at odds with the city it’s located in.
“If we want to help curb Britain’s rising loneliness problem, it’s crucial that we take a ‘human-first’, compassionate approach, and curate living spaces which are accessible, inclusive, friendly and safe.”