Italian mayor appoints loneliness councillor to help citizens


The mayor of a small town in northern Italy has appointed a loneliness councillor after being overwhelmed by the number of citizens calling in to discuss their problems.

Antonella Argenti, the elected mayor of Villa del Conte, a town of 5,400 people in the Veneto region, noted in May last year that many inhabitants were struggling to cope.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” she told La Stampa. “But in the first few months of my mandate, so many people came to see me. All of them, young and old, men and women, complained about their problems, but had the same type of loneliness – the lack of a support network.

“You are alone with your phone to take care of bills, or while waiting on an automated switchboard that refers to another recorded voice. Relationships are missing. Bureaucracy has become dehumanised. We are all becoming living robots.”

Graziella Vigri, a former social policies councillor, was given the job of tackling loneliness in the town. Residents are now able to contact both her and the mayor on their mobile phone numbers.

“We’ve told staff at the town hall to give our numbers to any citizen who calls seeking help. They will find a voice to guide them. And, if needed, also an appointment in the office to be able to talk and explain. They will find human contact.”

In Villa del Conte casual visitors will most probably find the town hall closed: according to its website, the office is only open on Tuesdays between 9am and 1pm, and again between 5pm and 6.30pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to midday. Vigri, however, said her mobile phone would be “switched on until dinner time”.

Argenti, who was elected on a centre-right list called “Con Voi [With You]”, was mocked over the initiative, with an opponent telling La Stampa: “It’s just a publicity gimmick for the newspapers.”