New Housing Concept to Cure Loneliness

Sällbo is a Swedish housing experiment designed to cure loneliness amongst the elderly. This new scheme offers homes to different ages and backgrounds – and insists that they (safely) socialise.

Swedes are famously independent - young people start living alone earlier than anywhere in Europe - a characteristic that continues into old age. Yet a sense of isolation poses a real “danger to health”, according to the Karolinska Institute, and remains prevalent among retirees.

“Our research showed that elderly people were feeling isolated from society, and were very lonely in their everyday life,” says Dragana Curovic, the project manager at Sällbo. “They were only mixing with others of the same age.”

Sällbo is an interesting experiment in multi-generational living in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden. Its name is a portmanteau of the Swedish words for companionship (sällskap) and living (bo), and neatly encapsulates the project’s goals: to combat loneliness and promote social cohesion by giving residents incentives, and the spaces, for productive interaction.

Sällbo opened last November and consists of 51 apartments. More than half of the 72 residents are over 70; the rest are aged 18-25. All were selected after an extensive interview process to ensure a mix of personalities, backgrounds, religions, and values, and all had to sign a contract promising to spend at least two hours a week socialising with their neighbours.

There’s a gym, yoga room, a library (stocked with the residents’ own books), and a large communal kitchen on every floor. There's an arts-and-crafts studio stuffed with creative paraphernalia, and the residents themselves turned one space into a workshop, complete with tools and equipment (one of the pensioners, a former sea captain, has reinvented himself as a silversmith). Even the main lounge on the ground floor is a multi-functional space, with hi-fi equipment, table football, and a piano, donated by one of the residents so that “everyone can experience its joy”.

“A new way to live,” proclaims Sällbo’s website, adding that it’s where “generations and cultures meet, with social life in the centre”. The project is administered by a not-for-profit housing company funded by the city council, and originates from an idea they had in 2016 amid concern about loneliness among older groups. Rents vary from 4,620 to 5,850 Swedish krona (£410 / $520 to £520 / $660) per month, which is commensurate with similar-sized rent-controlled apartments in the city. In comparison, private, one-bedroom rentals in the town centre cost nearly twice as much.

Although less than a year old, and despite the complications of a pandemic, the arrangement seems to be working for young and old. One resident, a 92-year-old former teacher, has been giving English lessons. Ahlsten and Bacharach have been cooking communal dinners, doing repairs and odd jobs, and driving people around; Bacharach taught one resident, an Afghan refugee, how to drive. In return, the younger residents help with modern technology and social media, and how to find information online.

“It’s a real community,” says Ahlsten, “and the mix of people works very well.” Bacharach agrees. “It’s great doing things together and enjoying other people’s company,” he says. Since moving in, he’s joined the gardening group, the Sunday night movie club, and learned to play Canasta. There are sign-up sheets in the communal areas and dedicated Facebook groups for all the various activities; just as importantly, there’s plenty of space.

Original source: Guardian