Recent studies have found that 54 per cent of people feel lonelier today than before the Covid-19 pandemic. Loneliness makes people sick – people who feel lonely are at higher risk of serious health issues, including heart disease and depression.
As a Councillor for the City of Sydney, I had been hearing from different groups that loneliness was increasing. In June we hosted a forum on “Ending Loneliness in the City” at Sydney Town Hall. The forum discussed – what do we know about loneliness and who it impacts, what works to prevent loneliness, and what opportunities exist to address loneliness in the city?
Sixty people attended and around 20 organisations including resident action groups, community organisations, health researchers and health services, human rights groups, homelessness services and architects.
Speakers included the Executive Officer of Inner Sydney Voice and Council for the Ageing, Marika Kontellis; CEO of Wayside Chapel, Jon Owen; loneliness researcher and research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre, Dr Marlee Bower; member of the Coalition of Caring for Community Centres, Melanie Tait; and student leader at the Sydney Alliance Eliza Putnis.
While loneliness affects everyone, people who are experiencing change or transition can be the most affected. This includes younger people, students, older people, newly arrived migrants and new parents. Public housing tenants and low-income households also tend to be impacted. Too often it costs money to go out or take part in the kind of social activities that bring our local communities together.
The forum was rich with suggestions for how we can both prevent and address loneliness. Most ideas were focused on the importance of creating free, safe spaces where diverse members of the community can connect, get to know each other, form friendships and ask for help if they need it.
Well-maintained natural spaces and well-designed, inclusive and accessible public spaces are essential for planned and unexpected social interactions. Access to spaces the community feels safe in and owns is very important to encourage connection and social cohesion, such as community centres, neighbourhood centres and libraries.
Local councils have a key role to play in addressing loneliness.
We know that connected neighbourhoods are key to strong communities. The challenge is how we support people who feel more disconnected and isolated post Covid, and how we can support our changing and growing communities in the inner city.
A report is being developed out of the first forum, and we’ll continue to work with groups about practical actions. We’d love to hear from you and organisations working to address loneliness in the inner city.
Email us at SEllsmore@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au or phone 9246 7357.
This guest editorial is by Sylvie Ellsmore who is Deputy Mayor City of Sydney and a representative of the Greens.