In Assen, it is the middle-aged that are lonely

07 April 2021 - Published by Walter Wehus
Around 40 per cent of the population in the Dutch city of Assen are feeling lonely. Unusually for The Netherlands, social loneliness is higher in the group of 45–55-year-olds than among the elderly.

“Most people have this idea that loneliness is something that mostly afflicts older people. But in Assen people in the age group 45-55 are reporting higher degrees of social isolation than the elderly,” says Eric Lanooy, project leader for From Isolation to Inclusion in the city of Assen.

The city will work specially to lessen the social isolation among the 45–55-year-olds, as well as among young people aged between 15 and 25.

“We don’t know yet why the middle aged are experiencing more social isolation. We can only theorize that at this age health issues like diabetes and heart problems start manifesting, and some people are facing divorces”, says Lanooy.

Co-creation with residents

In Assen, the I2I project focuses on the role of play and public meeting places in combating loneliness. The city has both a short track and a long track in the work against social isolation. For the short track, interventions can be as easy as making plans together with children to modernize playgrounds.

“A home for the elderly contacted us, and they told us that their residents would like to walk around more but need places to rest. So, we are going to put out some benches along their route. It can be simple examples like that”, says Lanooy.

The long track involves co-creation sessions and interventions together with residents of the Pittelo neighbourhood.

Among the things they will be working on is more innovative meeting places. This can be things like playgrounds with aspects of serious gaming.

“We also want to involve our cultural department to get some creative new ideas about how people can meet. In the city of Groningen for instance, residents are given the key to the culture house and are able to start projects like dancing, painting and setting up a musical”, says Lanooy.

Digital meeting in Assen

Assen hosted the partner meeting of From Isolation to Inclusion in February 2021. Among the features of the meeting – which was of course held digitally – was this video with interviews from Pittelo professionals and residents.

“For Assen, an important aspect of being part of From Isolation to Inclusion is the change in the way we structure our projects. We are working harder to measure effects, and investigate the before and after of our interventions,” says Lanooy.