Urban Pioneers: Dortmund’s Loneliness Officer

22 April 2024

The adverse effects of loneliness on health are well-documented. Chronic loneliness is associated with negative physical and mental health impacts. However, cities face challenges addressing this invisible and complex issue. 

Whether in the quality or quantity of relationships, loneliness describes a lack of connection. While some demographics may suffer from loneliness more than others, it affects a broad range of diverse groups of people. 

Sabrina Janz has been Dortmund’s Loneliness Officer since November 2023. Rather than befriending all of Dortmund’s residents, Sabrina explains that her role as Loneliness Officer is actually more about raising awareness and integrating anti-loneliness interventions across public authorities, social organisations and other stakeholder groups. As a cross-cutting issue affecting diverse groups, the fight against loneliness must be recognised and addressed on all fronts. 

She breaks down why combating loneliness goes beyond individual health and happiness and its key role in promoting a democratic society.

What are you trying to achieve in your position?  

The long-term goal is to prevent and combat loneliness in Dortmund. 

The fight against loneliness is a cross-cutting issue. This is why the loneliness coordination centre is centrally located. A position that allows it to build networks with other stakeholders such as public authorities, social organisations and citizens. 

My tasks are to assess the experiences of loneliness as well as the existing services and structures and raise awareness of the issue of loneliness. But the aim is to jointly identify new needs and further develop services.

What’s your personal motivation to do this job?  

I am very motivated to make a contribution against loneliness in my hometown of Dortmund. Loneliness describes a negative feeling in which a person desires other relationships. This can mean both the quantity and the quality of the relationships. 

Loneliness is hard to observe. Even people with many daily contacts can feel very lonely. I want to find out why groups of people become lonely and which neighbourhoods in Dortmund are particularly at risk of loneliness to use this knowledge to build new structures that combat loneliness.

What are your main challenges? 

Loneliness is a very complex issue. The causes of loneliness are just as varied as the people themselves. On top of that, a major challenge is accessing lonely people who may be very withdrawn. Creative approaches are necessary to reach these diverse groups and combat loneliness.

An important factor in my work is increasing awareness of loneliness across the city. I am building up contacts with relevant stakeholders, and together, we are considering how we can expand interventions against loneliness. 

When was the last time you felt that your position had a positive impact on your city’s inhabitants?  

My position is still new, but at the moment, I am mainly in contact with other areas of the city administration and less directly with the residents of Dortmund. A special ‘aha’ moment happened in a meeting with colleagues from the social sector when we talked about loneliness as an individual feeling. 

It became clear that this feeling can affect many more people in their field of work than they had assumed. This shift in perspective reveals that loneliness is really a cross-cutting issue. Many services are already being designed that directly or indirectly combat loneliness. My work is, therefore, initiating a change in my colleagues’ service structures to reach citizens. Networking plays a big role. 

My coordination office is embedded in the Neighbourhood and cohesion team, which also deals with other cross-cutting issues such as inclusion, LSBTIQ*, volunteering, and children and youth issues. We regularly exchange ideas and try to shape our areas of responsibility together.

If you had a magic wand, what could significantly improve the way you do your job?  

I would like to see more people dealing specifically with loneliness in order to address the issue even more quickly. Loneliness is a very broad issue affecting many areas and different groups of people.

For example, schools reported on the loneliness of pupils during and after the pandemic. The employment agency is advising students who have dropped out of university due to loneliness and are now looking for an apprenticeship precisely because they want more opportunities for contact.

Senior citizens’ offices and retirement homes report how older people are increasingly withdrawing when, for example, their partner dies or their health deteriorates in old age. To prevent acute loneliness from becoming chronic, measures must be taken swiftly. 

Pitch your job to other local, regional, national or European governments.  

Combatting the causes and consequences of loneliness is crucial on various levels. When lonely people feel excluded, they lose confidence in society and in democratic structures. This underscores the importance of addressing it not only on an individual scale but also at the city level.

A central coordination office pools knowledge and networks different specialist areas. Through its work, it contributes directly and indirectly to the way people identify with the city in which they live, promoting an active, democratic urban society.

Main photo credits: Felix Brückner


This interview is part of ‘Urban Pioneers,’ a Eurocities series published every second and fourth week of the month spotlighting innovative and original job positions in municipalities across Europe. Each article in this series highlights a job position aimed at improving wellbeing, health conditions, society and the environment in cities. From tackling the urban heat island effect to countering gender imbalances to encouraging sustainable mobility, ‘Urban Pioneers’ showcases how cities are leading by example and breaking new ground in enhancing people’s quality of life. ‘Urban Pioneers’ jobs can inspire national, regional and EU authorities to create similar positions in their own structures, multiplying across Europe’s regions and nations the positive impact that started in cities.

Article one: Officer for Basic Research in Women´s Issues in Vienna

Article two: Malmo’s Skateboarding Coordinator

Article three: Amsterdam’s Bicycle Mayor

Article four: Brussel’s Bouwmeester Maitre Architecte

Article five: Munich’s Head of the Equal Opportunities Office for Women 

Article six: Vienna’s Integration Officer

Article seven: Antwerp’s Chief Resilience Officer

Article eight: Dortmund’s Night Manager

Article nine: BYCS’ Rome Bicycle Mayor

Article ten: Barcelona’s Time Policy Officer

Article 11: Vienna’s Walking Officer


Alyssa Harris Eurocities writer