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How Property Can Beat Loneliness: A Lesson From Salford


Never has loneliness been so prominent.

With the second English lockdown still a long fortnight away from being lifted (maybe), isolation has become a way of life. But the coronavirus pandemic has dramatized a problem that was already all too prevalent in urban life.

Make Architects, which designed the English Cities Fund office blocks at Three and Four New Bailey in Salford, set up the Future Spaces Foundation in 2013 with the aim of rethinking the spaces where we live, work, shop and spend time as a community, looking at social issues and how the built environment can make a positive difference. Its Kinship in the City report takes the project a stage further.

“Despite being surrounded by thousands, maybe millions, of other people in our cities, many lack a true sense of connection and human interaction,” said the Make report's editor, Sara Veale. “Over the course of 2020, we have seen just how valuable a sense of community can be, and this has reinforced the need for buildings and neighbourhoods to be designed with people at their heart.

“Tackling urban loneliness requires a multifaceted approach with support from various sectors, including community groups, charities and health and social care. However, through considered design, architects have the power to create spaces that encourage vital human connections.”

Bisnow picked three themes from the project that the property industry might want to connect with.

1. Banish Isolation In Your Own Project

Make said that the most successful new areas of the city come to fruition when built environment professionals work together, collaborating as a full design team that includes architects, developers, urban planners or landscape architects

2. People Who Feel Safe Find It Easier To Connect

Make’s experience creating 645K SF offices and 635 homes at New Bailey taught it to think about the way people use spaces.

“[These spaces] have been designed for safety as well as inclusivity, which our research shows is crucial to helping people connect and establish a sense of belonging," Veale said.

"A lot of the time, people think of public spaces when imagining loneliness interventions in the built environment, but we should also think of the potential that private spaces, such as workplaces, have for building a community. In offices, for example, breakout spaces, staircases, lobby areas and other places for incidental meetings are important as opportunities for building relationships and confidence among colleagues. With many people still working from home, we are feeling the absence of that at the moment. Despite all the benefits of modern technology, it cannot replace these human interactions that help us feel less alone.”

3. Keep On Learning

"Despite the difficult times we have all faced this year, we hope that the experience will lead to a better future. We will see people return to our cities, but I think we will do things differently," Veale said. "There is already pressure to evolve roads, pedestrian spaces and public transport to accommodate the increase in people walking and cycling." 

For instance, research carried out by energy supplier comparison company Utility Bidder showed that in Manchester there has been a 169% increase in cycling since the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

“We need the collective infrastructure to accommodate this and make it feel safe and enjoyable," Veale said. "As for buildings, flexibility will be key here. By designing buildings with multiple uses, that have activity 24/7, not just between 9am and 5pm, we can create spaces that are animated, require less security and create a sense of ownership within the community. They can become places that people want to be part of and feel safe in, something that can help us all feel a little less lonely."