Reducing Loneliness, Naturally

Generating evidence for nature-based strategies to reduce loneliness and despair

ARC Future Fellow, Professor Thomas Astell-Burt

Nature-based strategies to reduce loneliness and despair

While loneliness and despair are reportedly increasing due to social and economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are investing in urban greening. This project aims to help steer greening strategies to reduce loneliness and despair, to enable recoveries from COVID-19 that are more sustainable, equitable and nourishing.

Professor Thomas Astell-Burt’s ARC Future Fellowship project, “Generating evidence for nature-based strategies to reduce loneliness”, aims to develop effective and scalable community-focussed solutions to the loneliness epidemic. Thomas has received funding of $1,046,924 over four years from the ARC.

Thomas is the Professor of Population Health and Environmental Data Science in the School of Health and Society. He is an international expert in the relationship between nature and human health and co-leads a thriving multi-university research group called the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab).

“Loneliness and despair are reportedly increasing due to social and economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Astell-Burt said.

“At the same time, governments in Australia and elsewhere are investing in community greening to improve liveability and to combat climate change; this is a major opportunity for positive change.

“My work has shown that these greening strategies can reduce loneliness and despair. This can happen not only by bringing people together for rest and play, but also by providing settings for solace and respite, and by mitigating factors that isolate people indoors, such as heat and violence.

“Greening cities equitably and finding ways to enable and empower people to spend more time in nature could hold the keys to a more sustainable, equitable and socially nourishing post-COVID recovery. Yet, little evidence-based guidance exists on how to do this equitably and effectively.

“My work will address this evidence-gap to aid the development of strategies that reduce loneliness and despair. Connecting with nature may be an effective way we can reconnect with each other.”

Project lead:

Professor Thomas Astell-Burt, University of Wollongong

Thanks to the following Supporters and Collaborators:

Prof Xiaoqi Feng of UNSW Sydney

Prof Terry Hartig of Uppsala University

Prof Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of ISGLOBAL

Prof Howard Frumkin of the University of Washington

Prof Anne McMunn of UCL

Dr Michelle Lim of Swinburne University

Prof Jason Byrne of the University of Tasmania

Prof Cecil Konijnendijk, Nature Based Solutions Institute

Dr Caroline Butler-Bowdon, Transport for NSW

Steve Hartley, NSW Department of Planning and Environment

Karen Sweeney, City of Sydney

Matthew O’Connor, Blacktown City Council

Katie Denoon, Sutherland Shire Council

Neal Ames, Waverley Council

Ian McKenzie, Institute of Australian Consulting Arboriculturists Ltd (IACA)

Martin Hartigan, Resilient Melbourne

Phil Pettitt, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Simone Borelli, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Alex O’Mara, Sustainable Solutions Advisory

Martin Blake, The Groundswell Foundation

Acknowledgement of funding:

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC)