The Loneliness Project is a low budget British film that runs for only three minutes and features two amateur actors but in less than three weeks it has made a world-wide impact attracting millions of viewers and recruiting thousands of volunteer helpers.

The brain child of the London-based Campaign to End Loneliness, it carries the simple message: “Don’t ignore victims of loneliness. You can help. Be aware. Respond.”

The response has been astounding; the viewing statistics are staggering and increasing daily. Hundreds of people wrote in appreciation from several countries, wishing they had “such a badly-needed organisation.”

The film was launched on 20 September at the campaign’s annual conference in London and posted onto the internet the following day, using social media and compatible web sites of similar organisations. Then it was posted on various websites of the national media. Very soon, the results became explosive. It went viral.

The hopeful target was one million hits or views but within a week the film had been seen more than eight million times! That was astonishing but there was more to come. A few days later the figure had reached 15 million and after two weeks the total was more than 19 million — and climbing! It has now risen to 31 million and has been “shared” more than half a million times, in places as far afield as Australia, Taiwan, Japan and Germany. Incredibly, the story it carries has been translated into Mandarin and is being read in China!

Shot in two London homes, the film shows a younger man as he undergoes a week of voluntary isolation in a small flat. He has no telephone or internet connection; his only aids against boredom are a pack of cards and the television set. At one point, he stands by the front door of the apartment and listens as neighbours walk by. He is tempted to join them, just to talk to someone. It was his sole contact with the outside world.

After four days he is pictured in near despair, unable to sleep, bored with both television and the cards, close to tears and in dire straits mentally. He said later that he was close to walking out, to ending the experiment. Such is the effect of loneliness common to the elderly, albeit in this case self-imposed and finite.

After a week of isolation he joins the other man, an 85 year old widower in the house next door, to discuss their mutual experiences of loneliness. For the old man, though, this is not acting, it is real life: he is still mourning the loss of his wife and has hard-earned knowledge of the loneliness that accompanies grief and bereavement.

The old chap tells of the many elderly victims who have minimal daily contact with the outside world, have no visitors and who often go a week without conversation. They are alone, in the true sense of the term, and they suffer in silence. They are numbered in their thousands and they live in isolation, sometimes for years…

This, the old man says, is the great tragedy because loneliness can rob the victim of all motivation, where life has little meaning or point and where every day is merely a ritual of survival leading only to another night of desperate solitude, one more in a long and lonely journey.

“Loneliness is like grief; it’s suffocating,” he tells his young friend. “After my beloved Christine died suddenly I felt only half alive, paralysed by the loneliness that comes with grief. I discovered that the human need for friendship does not dissipate with age; it actually increases. Whether we are 24 or 84 we all need connections that matter.”

The film closes with the old chap suggesting ways the victims might be helped; by offering imaginative conversation that brings a positive response, one that hopefully leads to a regular association even friendship, to break the chain of loneliness.

It’s a film that is poignant in its simplicity and its message and it has brought many gratifying responses, such as this one:

“Hi there; my name is Josh and I am a graduate at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Having recently come across your video online I have completely resonated with the message that your campaign is spreading. I feel that Australia could certainly benefit greatly from having your organisation active in its cities and you have inspired me to get started.”

And this one, from Eric Lucas: “A great eye-opener to what our beloved elderly go through every day. It is devastating. Many desperately try to reach out and make the effort, but it is seriously hard. Reach out! And thank you for doing this…”

Here’s another, from Claire Wrightson: “This breaks my heart and terrifies me. Check on your neighbours, talk to each other. You might be the only person they’ve spoken to/had interaction with that day/week. You might think they’re OK because they have family but, in this day and age, full-time work and family commitments may mean they don’t see their precious parents/grandparents/other relatives nearly as often as they would like. Take time to talk. It means the world.”

See the video here:

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