Shared Time Enhances People Solidarity- detecting and addressing loneliness

Edited on 09/01/2024

Project proposal by

  • Institution : Municipality of Verona
  • City : Verona
  • Country : Italy
  • Type of region : More developed
  • Population : 255 588

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The current demographic scenario of a decreasing birth rate/ageing population, characteristic of many cities, is particularly evident in Verona (Italy) which, since the 1980s, has been affected by a constant negative trend in the birth-death ratio. Over-65s have increased while the percentage of minors from 0-14 has fallen. We are witnessing an erosion of the family/relational networks associated with demographic/social/economic factors that have disruptive but rarely addressed effects, such as loneliness.


The challenge of the project was therefore to detect/qualify loneliness and tackle it in a systemic way by acting on the causes with regard to various need-related aspects of life. This has been done through an index (LoLix-Levels of Loneliness Index) and a remedy, a "territorial system" tested in the city's 3rd District, which activates local community resources and creates an offer of opportunities that impact living dimensions and supports the conventional welfare structure.


This system brought together existing and new territorial experiences, adopting a cross sectoral, synergic and eco-systemic approach to the problem, which is more often addressed in individual target groups or individual causes. Loneliness takes centre stage in institutional policies: the index generated was intended to provide an opportunity to monitor the state of well-being of its citizens. The expected change was an improvement in the quality of life in a way that adapts to demographic trends.  




What SOLUTIONS did the Urban Innovative Action project offer?


The project has tested a social/territorial model of informal support services promoted by various stakeholders, that touches key aspects of life in economic/psycho-physical/socio-relational dimensions. These services were provided in physical spaces (STEPSpoints) and in an ‘itinerant’ manner (especially condominium complexes from average size onwards). They aim to prevent/treat negative symptomatic features that cause loneliness, in the belief that a welcoming/inclusive/caring environment helps to prevent degenerative states of wellbeing/health and of people's quality of life in general, as well as worse developments.  


Starting from an analysis of the causes triggering loneliness and its characteristic features, the dimensions of loneliness were defined in a wider framework of three levels of vulnerability/thresholds (economic/psycho-physical/socio-relational). In-depth questionnaires have been used to provide evidence of the existing experience of loneliness/vulnerability.  


What DIFFERENCE has it made at local level?

The project will close in June 2024. The difference made at the local level will be included in the final and post-project evaluation for UIA. The LoLix causal investigation will provide some insights into the impact of project actions on the evolution of quality of life for people, for those included in the social/territorial model (treatment group) and those who are excluded (control group).


The data collected on the 3rd District will contribute, for statistical inference, to a pool of information on the characteristics of the urban population and its phenomenal evolutions, to be used for decision-making processes and the provision of services/opportunities.


What PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES have been put in place for the project?


In addition to traditional communication methods, the focus was on having face-to-face interactions with citizens/stakeholders (interviews, public meetings, participatory labs). 


The Municipality has implemented 8 calls for proposals to provide small contributions to local stakeholders to implement initiatives in urban regeneration, social and relational and circular-economy areas. A STEPS-circuit was initiated among citizens, and profit and non-profit stakeholders, to promote existing and new informal micro-initiatives to curb loneliness and foster connections and sociality among people. Initiatives, stakeholders, formal and informal connections, were mapped digitally.


The project supported the idea of community as a welfare provider. Relationships were the essence of the project (between peers/intergenerational/good neighbourly relations/key figures/...). The underlying theme of the project is to empower the community to combat loneliness: it takes action/care, promotes practices of solidarity, economic, welfare, neighbourliness, it is a key player in project governance, both in terms of the spaces and the services provided.  


How does the project tackle different aspects with an INTEGRATED APPROACH?


The project activates social, economic, environmental "mending" processes in response to a demographic change that tends towards the fragmentation of households, the increase of the “single" dimension (single-member household/single parents) and an older population:  


Society: favouring neighbourhood relations, dynamics of mutual help, cohabitation, social interaction, intergenerationality, cohesiveness, exchange, creating life/work conciliation services, reducing conflicts and increasing community spaces.  


Economic: by generating economic support models characterised by social responsibility/sustainability (management of needs based on available resources, a sustainable lifestyle, and the use of community resources).  


Environmental: through the recovery of urban spaces (environments that accommodate/connect the urban fabric); use of sustainable materials (self-construction); practices of exchange/reuse/saving for responsible living; education regarding dysfunctional behaviours/habits.  


This all stimulates a cultural change in social/economic relationships and the inhabited space.  


Why should other European cities use the solution the project explored?


The transfer paradigm will be 'some STEPS forward' with the following advantages: 


- Partners: to use the LoLix to explore the quality of life of their citizens, investigating moods/personality/use of time/health status/positive-negative loneliness/economic situation/consumer habits/urban decay/sustainable life-style habits; to use the STEPSpoint concept as a model for informal welfare. 


- Verona: to uphold the best practices while enhancing both quality/quantity including the entire urban area; to reinforce the idea of community centres providing informal support services; to evolve the STEPS-circuit. 


- All network: to explore practical applications of the LoLix in urban policies, as a decision-making tool, as an opportunity to adapt regulations and improve services; to further explore/develop the idea of informal welfare services provided at the doorstep of beneficiaries in a flexible/mobile manner across the local territories; to create a STEPSpoint network in the EU to exchange practices.