• This refurbished apartment block brings 72 people of mixed ages and backgrounds together.
  • There are shared kitchens and recreation areas to help them socialize.
  • Six in 10 Swedes sometimes feel lonely, and one in 10 say they don’t have a single close friend.

In an attempt to bring people together and combat loneliness, a Swedish town is conducting a live experiment in communal living.

In an apartment block in of Helsingborg, 72 people share their space with one another and are encouraged to participate in a range of group activities for at least two hours a week.

The project is called SällBo – a name derived from “sällskap”, togetherness, and “bo” meaning to live.

The real Nordic noir

Despite routinely topping the lists of the world’s best and happiest places to live, there are a lot of unhappy people in the Nordics. Loneliness, it would appear, is a major factor.

A 2019 study found 59% of Swedes feel alone often or sometimes, and one-third of them think it’s a problem. The same study found that 24% of Swedes would like to have more friends while one in 10 say they don’t have a single close friend.

Ranking by highest index value.
Famously upbeat, the Nordics are a happy place. Mostly.
Image: Statista

Loneliness can be a very serious problem. Its effects on well-being have been likened to the harm done by smoking and drinking too much alcohol and is associated with an increased likelihood of developing heart disease, hypertension or having a stroke.

While social isolation has long been recognized as a particular challenge for older people, loneliness doesn’t care how old people are when it afflicts them. A survey from the Nordic Council of Ministers found that 19.5% of young Swedish women and 13.8% of young Swedish men say they are not happy.

Bringing people together

SällBo was created following a collaboration with Linnaeus University in the town of Växjö, which spent three years researching the housing needs of migrants, students and the elderly.

According to Mathilda Tham, professor of design at Linnaeus University: “Sweden has the most single households in the world. We have become accustomed to having a lot of space, but it is not so future-oriented. Housing over generations can meet many needs and is not only an advantage for the elderly.”

Many younger people, she adds, might be far from their family and relish the prospect of having someone around they can turn to.

SällBo has been created in a block that was built in the 1960s for seniors. After the influx of refugees into Europe in 2015, it was used to house unaccompanied children. There’s a gym, a yoga room and several communal kitchens. An arts-and-crafts studio has already been filled with residents’ mood boards, paints and wool, while residents have also begun stocking the library with books.

There are 31 two-room apartments at SällBo for retired people and 20 for people aged between 18 and 25. Half of those have been reserved for people who came to Sweden as unaccompanied child refugees and asylum-seekers. To encourage residents to mix, there's a shared living room with TV and balcony, a games room, a vegetable garden and more.

“It's a nice idea to get together instead of each sitting in one little flat,” one of the SällBo residents, 86-year-old Gunnel Ericsson, said. “I was so lonely after my husband died one and a half years ago... (the) silence was overwhelming and it could go past days when I didn’t talk to anyone.”