Communities around the world are investing in connecting people.
Posted in , Sep 19, 2019
The phrase “the loneliness epidemic” has been used for a few years now to describe growing concern over how isolated and alone many people feel, particularly older adults who have left the workforce and don't have family nearby.
Good advice abounds to help people recognize and push back against loneliness, from volunteering to help others, to using social media to connect, to taking a class.
Recent news reports have shown that communities are getting creative in facilitating social connections among its members, both as a preventative measure and a soothing balm against chronic loneliness. Here are three examples:
1) “Chat Checkout” Grocery Lane
At a Jumbo Supermarket in Vlijmen, Netherlands, two initiatives offer customers the opportunity to meet and greet while they shop and eat. In the “Chat Checkout” lane, customers can expect their purchases to take a few extra minutes to ring up and bag because employees make the experience a touchpoint for initiating conversation. The store also recently launched a volunteer-led “All Together Coffee Corner” where over coffee and conversation, elderly customers can meet volunteers who are ready to help with errands, shopping and other tasks.
2) “Chat Bench” in a Local Park
England is among the most progressive countries when it comes to combating the loneliness epidemic, having appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” to strategize ways to help people feel less isolated. In one English town, the police department designed a few benches decorated with signs that say, “The ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench: Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.” More than 40 such benches are now in place throughout the country, and town officials report feedback like, “The chat bench removes that invisible social barrier that prevents people from saying ‘hello.’”
3) “Tea with Strangers”
Ankit Shah, a recent college graduate, was new to the San Francisco Bay area in 2013 when he started organizing regular tea gatherings in an attempt to stave off the loneliness of living in a new place. Today, “Tea with Strangers” is an international organization that has hosted more than a thousand teas in 15 cities.
All of these innovative ideas share an inspiring quality that make them accessible to anyone in any community of any size—they’re quite simple, requiring only a few materials and just a few people who believe that no one needs to be lonely as long as there are others to see, listen to and be valued by.