Social isolation is a driving force behind the UK’s increasing loneliness problem, which is also inextricably linked with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Atlas Residential‘s Operations Director, Stephanie Smith, considers the implications of this and what the build to rent sector can do to combat the situation.
Every day, whether on the crowded trains or over coffee on a break, we scroll through the latest LinkedIn and Twitter feeds filled with new articles about advancements in tech.
Inundated with FinTech, PropTech, Social Media, we are surrounded by technology that enables us to communicate with people around the world, yet, somehow, loneliness has reached epidemic proportions.
An overwhelming truth of today’s “advanced” world is, quite simply, social isolation is rapidly becoming one of the largest health risks facing the UK population.
Despite technology providing more avenues of connection than ever before, we have never felt so disconnected. Meaningful discussion has been replaced by cat videos, 280 characters or less and picture-perfect images of lives that, while we fully realise can’t possibly be as idyllic as the photos suggest, adds stress and focus on struggles we may be experiencing internally.
It’s essential to look at different communities around the world, where life is drastically different to the buzzing cities and 70 hour work weeks of the US and UK, to see where we can improve and also dispel assumptions about how to reach the elusive goal of a “quality, long life”.
As an example, Sardinia is home to the oldest population in the world. There are six times as many centenarians there as there are in mainland Italy and ten times as many as in the USA. Sardinia is also the one place where male life expectancy is as long as female. Surprisingly, a long term study of this society determined that, more so than diet and exercise which appeared on the lower spectrum of contributing factors, social interaction and friendship were the top two factors which the Sardinians had in common when it came to living a long, happy life.
This is far from an isolated finding, as a Brigham Young University study of tens of thousands of people found that social interaction and close relationships were the top two predictors for long life, again outweighing clean air, healthy body weight, exercise and more. Further to this, an Amsterdam Study of the Elderly reveals that those who suffer from loneliness are at a 64% greater risk of developing dementia.
It’s not a secret to any of us that an evening laughing with friends or relaxing with our families with popcorn and a movie is far better than staring at our laptops or smartphones, however, it causes one to ask why and when we allowed the latter to become the dominant factor of our lives?
As a long time advocate of socialisation in the build to rent/multifamily sector, Atlas recognises the importance that the new face of housing in all tenures creates avenues enhance the personal lives of those who live in our communities. Through careful design and thoughtful management, we have the ability to bring vital interactions into our residents’ lives, thus enhancing their wellbeing through the home environment. The emphasis is on community creation not just property provision.
Shared social spaces for residents to interact are one facet of this community creation approach. However, it is important to realise that sites without extra spaces like resident lounges, etc. can create many opportunities to add value to their residents’ lives.
As our market grows and eyes look to other countries, like the US and Canadian markets, where our Atlas Residential communities and other market leaders realise that we can build a property, plan events, and draw people in, but the residents define the community- an understanding that has evolved throughout the years and created an air of flexibility and looking to always improve.Local interest groups are easily enabled- from running clubs to weekend coffee mornings and dog walking groups, residents can pursue their interests while getting to know their like-minded neighbours, building layers of social interaction that contribute to positive mental health and reduced social isolation.
Cooking clubs and book clubs are commonplace, while other features are shaped more to specific interests. Examples include virtual golf rooms and pamper nights (think facials and make up lessons over a glass of wine). The beauty of running such activities within the development is that residents can enjoy making new friends and pursuing their interests, all while safe from outside stresses thanks to the “sanctuary” of the home environment.
Contributing to societal improvement is something that nobody should shy away from. Our communities are crumbling, but it is not yet too late to revive them. As build to rent owners and operators, it is our duty to do all we can to enable people to reconnect.