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Engineers 'need to be at heart' of UK's Loneliness Strategy


Engineers should play a key role in tackling loneliness, the director of WSP has claimed following the release of the government’s first ever Loneliness Strategy.

WSP director David Symons has argued that engineers should play as much of a role in overcoming loneliness as local authorities and charities involved in befriending schemes. 

He said that engineers need to design public spaces and transport systems to be inclusive. 

Symons said: “Our research has shown that things like designing spaces and buildings to overcome loneliness is a key strategy.

“Designing transport strategies is important because there is lots of evidence that shows that the busier your street, the fewer neighbours you know the names of.”

The London School of Economics estimates the cost of loneliness at £6,000 for a decade of an older person’s life while the New Economics Foundation have estimated that in 2017 the cost of loneliness to the private sector was £2.1bn.

The government’s Loneliness Strategy dedicates £1.8M to increase the amount of community spaces available and claims the funding will be used to transform underutilised areas by, for example, creating new community cafes, art spaces or gardens.

Symons called the strategy “a substantial step forward”, but also expressed concern that it did not include “firmer recommendations on designing spaces and buildings from the outset”.

Symons added: “Engineers are sometimes a little more reticent to talk about these areas because they are possibly a bit messy and they are not traditionally an area that engineering has commentated on.

“In fairness, the [government Loneliness Strategy] consultation possibly was not well directed towards business. When the call for evidence was launched, it was more directly targeted towards the sort of typical respondents.”

He added: “[WSP] was quite surprised that less than 10% of the organisations that were quoted in the report as taking part in the consultation were actually businesses.

“The rest were charities and local authorities. WSP responded to the consultation and we think there is more for business to do to get engaged in.”

In addition, the government’s Loneliness Strategy entails plans to incorporate loneliness into ongoing policy decisions with a view to a loneliness ‘‘policy test’’ being included in departments’ plans.

The strategy also sets out plans for the government’s minister for loneliness Tracey Crouch and minister for digital & the creative industries Margot James to meet tech companies to explore how technology can help to prevent isolation.

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