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Loneliness city councillor is a first for Flanders
City councils in Flanders divide policy portfolios, such as education, tourism and the environment among elected councillors. Some are also given topics such as diversity or inclusion. Now Sint-Truiden in Limburg has become the first municipality in Flanders to appoint a city councillor responsible for tackling loneliness.
The job has gone to Pascal Monette, a member of the liberal Open VLD party and already chair of the local welfare centre OCMW. Talking to the press about his new role, he said he already had “loneliness radar,” often seeing the signs in his market stall selling fresh produce.
“Every day at least 30 customers come to my stall to buy just one piece of fruit or a vegetable,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “That’s not because they can only afford one banana or apple or cauliflower, but because they want a chat, to have the chance to talk with someone.”
That’s true of young and old alike, he says. “Young people also live in isolation. Even if they have a social environment at school or work, or they have 5,000 friends on Facebook, they still don’t have someone they can just talk to.”
Monette’s first priority is simply to raise awareness of the issue, and since his appointment, interest has already shot up. “Sint-Truiden is suddenly talking openly about the problem, so that is already a good start.”
He wants to get people to talk more to each other, particularly if they think someone might be feeling lonely. He also wants to try out a loneliness contact point, based on an example in Rotterdam, where people such as social workers, teachers or postal workers can flag up possible cases of social isolation.
“We aren’t under the illusion that we can end this problem,” Monette told Het Laaste Nieuws, “but we want to mobilise the people of Sint-Truiden and support initiatives that do something about loneliness.”
Photo: Getty Images