Combating rural loneliness through careful property purchase

Loneliness is becoming an increasingly pressing problem. It can be incredibly detrimental to physical and mental health, and is a condition that affects people of all ages.

Linda Jeffcoat of Stacks Property Search believes that it is an issue that everybody should consider when buying property. She says, “For some people it’s hard to imagine that loneliness might be a concern, but there are some key times in life when it can suddenly become a factor. Typically, young parents (generally mothers) who find themselves home alone with a young baby; the newly divorced whose social life has fragmented; empty nesters; the retired who find that life after work isn’t everything they hoped; the widowed; and those that have lost their health.

“Ironically, these are times of life that often coincide with a house move, and buyers are often concentrating on a wide range of criteria but neglecting to think about aspects of their purchase relating to avoiding (or combating) loneliness.

“Twenty first century lifestyles mean that we often live long distances from family; that we seek privacy in our homes; that we drive to do the shopping, to take our children to school, and to socialise. But when life changes result in isolation from nuclear families and work colleagues, the effects can be devastating.

“I would recommend that property buyers at all times of their lives consider how a house move will affect their ability to interact with others at a healthy and rewarding level, and to look at both location and property type with this in mind.

There are developments and communities that positively address the issues surrounding loneliness and offer fantastic lifestyles.

Village Makers build developments that have at their heart quality of life. The most fundamental aspect to their work is what they call ‘mindful placemaking’.

Bob Tomlinson of Village Makers says, “Communal, people-centric space is what makes the difference, space that encourages human connection, communication, neighbourliness, conviviality and a feeling of belonging.

“Our development, The Wintles in Shropshire, now twelve years old, is a blueprint for how design can play a significant role in the quest for neighbourly neighbourhoods. The 40 houses are linked by winding paths, and arranged in clusters around shared green space, car ports located behind the houses. Residents meet each other naturally simply by leaving the house and children can roam the development safely.

“All our properties have an open porch, a space that’s neither inside nor outside, but is covered and protected. These spaces encourage interaction between neighbours. It’s a place to chat without the need to go through the formality of inviting somebody in. The structure of many of Bob Tomlinson’s designs are based on Christopher Alexander’s ‘A Pattern Language’ which cites the open porch as one of the vital design ‘patterns’.

Tomlinson says, “Crucial to encouraging human connection is the communal space in a development. At The Wintles there is a total of 17 acres of land. There are small village greens, larger spaces for get-togethers, woodland, allotments, and hillside space that has been creatively used by the residents.”

Space close to the houses has been used for weddings, barbecues, paella parties and Christmas gatherings. Allotments were provided for all residents, but production has expanded around this organised space into chicken and pig rearing, bee hives, vines, honey and cider production. Everyone works together, pursuing their own particular interests, but working together, and helping each other out in a common aim.

Bob Tomlinson says that the key to creating a good community is working out what makes an existing place works and translating it into a new place. His current project is Oakley Orchards in Essex. The scheme is a joint venture between Pete Thompson, a local landowner and farmer, and Village Makers. Outline planning permission has been granted for 51 houses on a nine acre site amidst fruit orchards in the village of Great Oakley.

Like The Wintles, Oakley Orchards has been designed to positively encourage neighbourliness and community. The arrangement of the plots around greens planted with fruit trees flies in the face of the regimented arrangement of many developments. Each house is oriented differently on pedestrian pathways, and visitors will struggle to find a straight line, apart from the walls of the houses themselves. Every aspect of the design – from the open spaces, to the layout of the pathways and the location and orientation of the houses – is designed to encourage people to meet and talk to each other. There are also numerous green spaces, a communal herb garden and allotments, and a communal green to encourage community events. A forest school and village hall will be created as part of the development.

Linda Jeffcoat says, “Families with new children are often tempted to find a rural property with a large garden or paddock, but living within a community can be a much better option. Buggies can be pushed to cafes, toddler groups, the shops, and gatherings of other parents in the same position. A simple chat with a neighbour can relieve the tedium of a day changing nappies and feeding.

“Divorcees should think very hard before moving away from an established area. ‘Sharing’ children when parents live far away from each other is difficult; it’s easy to help each other out with school runs, turn up for a sports fixture or school event, or host children’s friends if you all live in the same area. And making new friends and acquaintances in an unfamiliar area when you’re recovering from a separation can be challenging.

“Empty nesters should consider how they are going to use their newly freed-up time, perhaps pursuing interests that were abandoned years before and never reignited. Local sports clubs, choirs, societies, allotments, or art groups will all fill the gaps that have been left by your departed children, while introducing you to new acquaintances and friendships.

“The precise location of a property, and its layout can make a big difference to the amount of social interaction a property owner can encourage. Properties in the bustling centre of villages and towns encourage walking rather than driving which in turn leads to neighbourly encounters; those with an area at the front of the house such as a garden, loggia, veranda or open porch, will inevitably find they host more relaxed cups of tea or glasses of wine without the need for a formal invitation.

 “Other top tips include:

“Beware picturesque villages without facilities of any kind. Residents drive in and drive out, and there’s little interaction aside from organised events;

“Dogs are a great ice-breaker. If you own one, walk it locally; if you don’t have one of your own, offer to walk somebody else’s – they will be grateful. Conversing with random strangers can be tricky, but add a dog or two to the mixture, and it’s completely acceptable!”

Ends – 

Oakley Orchards: www.oakleyorchards.com; and

The Wintles: www.villagemakers.com  

Stacks Property Search & Acquisition: www.stacks.co.uk

Ends – 

For press information, contact Amanda MacCaw, 01386 700068 / 07977 238175 / amanda@wildmaccaw.co.uk

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