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Combatting social isolation through compassionate, human-focused places






Loneliness is a growing epidemic.

And the way our cities and communities are planned, designed and built is a major part of the equation.  

Loneliness and the Built Environment is a new 5-minute film calling to attention the under-recognised public health crisis of social isolation, and the urgent need to shape cities, places and spaces to support connectedness.
It is reported that loneliness carries a health risk similar to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. The film was released in the week of the UN International Day of Happiness, which had the theme of “Happier Together”. 
The fields of architecture and design are often seen to be only related to physical elements or surface appearances, without awareness of the bigger impacts - how places can have either a positive or negative effect on people’s lives, including social health.
Capturing glimpses of people in their everyday lives, Loneliness and the Built Environment poignantly brings home the reality of this quietly devastating crisis and shines a light on the need to rethink cities and the design of places to help tackle this widespread challenge.
This film aims to raise greater awareness on how our surroundings profoundly impact people’s health, happiness and ability to live together as communities. It looks to inspire change and foster a sense of empowerment for people to expect more from their places. It shares the power of our surroundings to nurture individual and social wellbeing through the lens of Natasha Reid’s humanistic perspective on design and placemaking.

“Loneliness is one of the biggest hidden issues in our cities, and this film aims to help bring this invisible crisis to light. It highlights that the way our spaces, places and cities are being made overlooks the fundamental things that make us human – and that this can and should change”. 


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The project is a collaboration between Natasha Reid, founder of MATTER SPACE SOUL, a new type of spatial design lab focused on health, wellbeing and social sustainability, and Lawrence Barraclough, director of You See Media, a built environment specialist media agency dedicated to telling the stories behind the architecture and planning.


“Although shot in and around London, the issues the film addresses are rife in cities and towns around the world, as proven by the launch of a new WHO social connection group in November 2023, making it a timely call to action.”

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Why the built environment matters for loneliness


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently set up the first global initiative on social connection which aims for the issue to be recognised as a worldwide public health priority. Estimates suggest that 1 in 4 older adults experience social isolation, as well as 5 to 15 per cent of adolescents.
Last year, an 85-page advisory by the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy raised the alarm on the significant health consequences of loneliness on mental, physical, and societal health. The document highlights the design the built environment as one of the key areas that can promote social connection and mend the social fabric of cities.  
In the UK, the Campaign to End Loneliness previously published research on Tackling Loneliness through the Built Environment, setting out how positive change can be achieved. 
Through the medium of film, Loneliness and the Built Environment looks to convey the human side of this global issue and normalise discussing the subject. It calls for a shift in considering the social health of cities and how the design of places can either help or hinder connection, sense of community, belonging – elements that are essential to wellbeing. 



Creating Compassionate Spaces


Interdisciplinary designer Natasha Reid, who wrote and features in the film, has been working on designing out loneliness from cities as an expert with the Loneliness Lab. The film reflects her design philosophyCompassionate Spaces” - which seeks to take people’s needs and human nature into account in a deeper, more holistic and more comprehensive way. She has been developing new design approaches that draw from the human sciences, like psychology and neuroscience, as a Fellow of international collective Centre for Conscious Design.
Most recently she has created an innovative design model for “Place Quality”, which reframes the benchmarks of design success to be based on the benefits to people’s health and lives. This became part of a London borough’s planning permission guidance in 2023, aiming to embed health, social connection, community, inclusivity and belonging into places.
Part of a growing field of individuals and organisations working towards change, she advocates for seeing the built environment as our collective “human habitat”. She believes that more emotionally and socially-intelligent approaches are needed, alongside greater collaboration across sectors, to better nurture people’s health and happiness.
Reid’s perspective has been brought to life through filmmaker Barraclough’s powerful visual storytelling. Through dreamy, fragmented, intimate, snapshots of individuals in isolation amongst their surroundings, he illustrates the personal connections and disconnections, in a distinctive style that pays homage to Vivian Maier’s street-photography.



Project team:
The film was written by and features Natasha Reid, Founder – MATTER SPACE SOUL.
It was directed, photographed and edited by Lawrence Barraclough, Director – You See Media  
The film was made in the spirit of support for the Campaign to End Loneliness. 





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Background information


MATTER SPACE SOUL is a new type of spatial design lab rethinking how we see, shape and design places to support people’s health, wellbeing and social sustainability.
Having trained and practiced in architecture, founder Natasha Reid has specialised in the social, psychological and emotional impacts of places over the last decade and often speaks at conferences on forward-thinking approaches to pressing urban issues. She is an advocate for the power of design to create change that matters, profiled as a “Groundbreaker” by international design authority Wallpaper* magazine and as a “Women to watch” by Elle Decoration.


You See Media is a media agency that specialises in content creation and storytelling for the built environment sector.
They approach every project with energy to bring out your unique qualities. They believe it’s not always about being short and snappy, it’s about making your media engaging and impactful. By thinking bigger and going deeper they create bespoke and authentic messaging with substance, power, emotion and meaning.


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