19 September 2022

By Tracey Robbins, Head of UK Programme Delivery. Tracey oversees the work of Eden Project Communities across the four nations and is herself passionate about communities, informal networks, interconnectedness, and reducing loneliness. Follow her on Twitter!

Photo of a group of handmade clay people

“In his or her own way, everyone I saw before me looked happy. Whether they were really happy or just looked it, I couldn't tell. But they did look happy on this pleasant early afternoon in late September, and because of that I felt a kind of loneliness new to me, as if I were the only one here who was not truly part of the scene.” ― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

For so many of us, regardless of the number of our years, September is a time of transition, a time of new beginnings, a time of change. That is true this year more than ever, as we now collectively experience a period of significant change – of monarchy, governance and in the face of a growing cost of living and environmental crises. It is an unsettling time in many ways, but (as my mum would say) "as one door closes, another opens..."

As does the usual pressure to seize the moment and do as much as possible before the clocks turn back in October - so we can be ready for the winter.

For so many these are lonely and challenging times. From our youngest to oldest, within our families and communities, loneliness and feelings of isolation will be present.  So many lose the comfort of friends and family, neighbours known for years, in the unfamiliar face of September:

  • The child that has started a new class, has a new teacher and their friends are grown and changed;
  • The teacher that welcomes a whole new class, with a new set of personalities and challenges in front of them;
  • The parent at the school gates - regardless of being an ‘older’ or ‘younger’ parent - does not know the others gathered there;
  • The student who begins their life away from home, sharing a space with others unknown;
  • And the loneliness of those who remain behind - in the quieter homes and halls;
  • The neighbours and communities watching their transient tenants come and go with the academic year;
  • The employee who has started a new job.

Yet these are all new beginnings and opportunities to make new relationships and develop friendships.  As hard and as awkward as it can be, we need to reach out and connect and smile. For others, not part of this scene, no school gate to gather at, no school in which to learn, no neighbour to natter to, what does September bring for them? A reminder they are not a part of it, those who may be single, in care, unemployed, retired. 

Lonely people are often excluded from the opportunities many people take for granted.  The realities of the cost of living increases will leave many feeling isolated and alone. They don’t have access to new opportunities, to meeting new and different people in ordinary everyday situations, and yet it is from these that people develop new relationships, experiences, insights, interests, hobbies and, hopefully, new friendships. Loneliness is not inevitable nor is it predictable, you do not have to be older or alone to qualify for it. We all qualify and we all will experience it within our life at different stages and for different reasons.

This month, take care of yourself and others. Look out for and talk about loneliness, and try three things to reduce loneliness in your community -  whether your own or someone else’s.

Tracey's Top Tips for reducing loneliness

  • Smile and say hello, even when it’s hard
  • Make every contact and conversation count
  • Look out for opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions

Need some more inspiration? Here’s some examples of how people are tackling isolation in their communities...

  • Ann Osborn is tackling isolation in rural Suffolk, bringing people together with coffee and a caravan: read more here.
  • Junior Mtonga utilised disused commercial spaces in urban London, bringing his community together through a pop-up shop: read more here.
  • Christina Ashworth battled the isolation caused by social stigma around crime, alcoholism, and mental health, by reclaiming common spaces: read more here.