Hannah Carmichael (2003). Photography: Carl Fletcher.

Living well alone

Hannah Carmichael (2003) is the founder of the Living Well Alone Project. She has spent much of her life supporting disadvantaged youth, both at home and abroad, and now works for the Department of Education. You can read more about Hannah’s work on pages 21–3 of the spring 2019 Johnian magazine, mailing April 2019. In the article below, she explains the reasons behind founding the Living Well Alone Project last year, what has been achieved so far and what are the next steps.

Landing back in London after two years overseas, I was excited about moving into my own place. I looked forward to buying furniture to my taste, filling the cupboards with the things I liked to eat and putting up my own pictures — all without having to negotiate!

However, a personal tragedy just a few weeks into my new living arrangements left me struggling to cope. At a time when all I wanted to do was hide under the covers, I found myself responsible for all aspects of running a household while working a busy job. I didn’t reach out to friends and family, not wanting to burden them, so they assumed that I was either okay or being looked after by others. Isolated in this way, I slipped into depression.

The most common reasons for people to start living alone are separation, divorce or bereavement. That means that many people are getting to grips with living by themselves — often for the first time — at the same time as coping with significant trauma. As my story shows, even those who have actively chosen to live alone can find the transition to solo living unexpectedly challenging.

The Living Well Alone Project is recognising some of these challenges for the first time. We know that living alone can be an empowering experience and many people who do it never look back, but we also know that there’s a learning curve involved and that it’s normal to go through a range of emotions, including feeling quite low and isolated at first. Our advice for anyone in this situation would be to take it one day at a time, to stay in contact with friends and family and not to expect too much of yourself at first. You don’t need to be on top of everything from day one.

The eight million people who live alone in the UK are an increasingly powerful social, economic and political force.

I gradually got to grips with solo living by talking to other people who had done it. I learnt strategies — such as batch cooking and freezing meals, planning weekends well ahead of time and making friends with my neighbours — to stay healthy, happy, safe and connected. Through the Project, we’re encouraging people with experience of living alone to share their ‘top tips’ with others. That advice is forming the basis for the online toolkit we’re building at livingwellalone.com.

The Living Well Alone Survey is our main source of data. Through it, we’ve learnt that the aspect of living alone that people enjoy most is freedom, followed by calmness, quiet and the opportunity to establish your own identity. The aspects people enjoy least tend to be the everyday ones: how much more it costs to live alone, how restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres aren’t particularly ‘solo friendly’ places and how maintenance can be tricky if you’re not that good at DIY!

Although loneliness definitely affects those who live alone, statistics show that this is not much more so than for any other group of people. Something we do hear a lot, though, is a real fear about getting sick or injured or having a flare up of a chronic condition while living alone.

As Professer Eric Klinenburg of NYU says in his book Going Solo, ‘the rise of living alone represents the greatest social change of the last 60 years that we have failed to name or identify.’ The eight million people who live alone in the UK are an increasingly powerful social, economic and political force. Through the Project, we’re giving this community a voice for the first time.

This year, we’re ramping up our media work and beginning to think about corporate sponsorship so we can get our content development onto a sustainable footing. We’re also going to start reaching out to companies, politicians and community leaders to share what we’ve learnt.

To find out more about the Project and how you can offer your support, please email hello@livingwellalone.com. If you have experience of living alone yourself, feel free to join the Project’s Facebook community and fill out the Living Well Alone survey!

See pages 21–3 of the spring 2019 Johnian magazine, mailing April 2019, for a broader look at what Hannah has been up to since taking her first leadership steps during the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, aged 14.

All photography: Carl Fletcher

St John’s College, Cambridge | Alumni blog

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Johnians do incredible things. Read about them here, and learn more at johnian.joh.cam.ac.uk

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