Inkeri Ruuska, HelsinkiMissio: Social interaction in daily life reduces loneliness
An older gentleman comes in and blurts out right away: “I had to come in here to receive some of this toddler energy.” The location is HelsinkiMissio’s social living room, Albert's Living Room, in the Punavuori district in Helsinki, where families with children and seniors can meet and interact with each other. Volunteer seniors serve as hosts. Parents with small children and senior citizens can stop in and meet one another. The main emphasis is on pleasant time spent together. The interior of the space is comfortable and practically invites people to chat with each other and play together. The gentleman who just entered sits down on the couch and immediately a small boy with a book crawls onto his lap. They start reading the book, while the little boy’s mother enjoys coffee with the other mothers.
Photo: HelsinkiMissio / Jani Laukkanen
Many people, young or old, are lonely. Loneliness restricts one’s social circle, and research has shown it is also hazardous to health. Interaction with others in daily life reduces loneliness. We have a lot of spaces that are natural meeting points for people. Libraries have traditionally created a strong sense of social belonging. Art museums gather people together around a shared art experience. In addition to providing experiences, art is associated with powerful social interaction.
In daily life, stores are locations that can well promote social interaction and help reduce loneliness. A K-store retailer in Lahti got the idea to create a social living room adjacent to the store. The space is called Ainon tupa and it is open every Friday. Local volunteers operate this living room, too, and the retailer provides the coffee and sweet rolls. There, many of the residents in the area have found someone to chat with, which has brought joy to their daily lives. This phenomenon has started to spread. In Iivisniemi in Espoo, Kaken kahvila run by the local K-store retailer offers lonely elderly people the opportunity to enjoy coffee and meet other people on Fridays.
But let’s go back to Albert’s Living Room, which brings different generations together. The seniors explain how refreshing it is to be around little children and how it brightens their day to play with them or just watch them play. The young parents are grateful for the children having someone to play with and for the opportunity to take a short break when others are looking after the child. Also the gentleman who came in for some toddler energy goes home feeling joyful.