The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on several issues in our society that, when the time is right, I hope will be looked at alongside other broader policy matters.

One such area is community connectivity and the radical thinking that needs to be done to ensure that we – literally - build out the weaknesses in our planning and housing policies - policies that have inadvertently created a disconnected, lonely, isolated society.

I could write reams on loneliness, which would be hardly surprising for the world’s first Loneliness Minister. Loneliness can be debilitating and its health impact is well researched and reported. It is a subjective emotion that touches most people at some point in their life, but acute levels of loneliness are found in both the young and the old.

Recent statistics show that 9 million people across the UK are either always or often lonely. An estimated 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely right now and, with the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness forecast to reach two million by 2026, it could be even greater by 2030. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, statistics show that it is 16 to 24 year olds that are most likely to report feeling lonely, with 10% feeling lonely “often or always”. What’s more, reports from the charity Action for Children found in a survey that 43% of 17 to 25 year olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness.

Throughout the pandemic loneliness has featured regularly in newspaper columns, which either noted growing concerns about the issue or (rightly) championed initiatives to support those who have been forced indoors for their own safety. There are many amazing organisations that tackle loneliness in normal times; but the thing that has struck me as I have gone around delivering food and medication to constituents is how much more there is to do. We need to fast-track recommendations that were buried in Chapter 3 of the 2018 Loneliness Strategy that demonstrated how fundamental housing and planning policies are to tackling loneliness for decades to come.

We should be building retirement communities as an absolutely priority. What became clear in my constituency quite early on in the pandemic, although I doubt it is unique, was that there were a lot of people who had no-one to rely on nearby to physically support them. In twelve weeks my local pub delivered nearly 13,000 meals to vulnerable elderly people; not all were single households, but many were, and they were clearly lonely. For some, this meal was their only hot dinner that day and the hello from the deliverer their only conversation.

But what if we imagined a more appealing way of living – let us call it the Florida solution – where instead of building paper-thin-three-storey-mock-New-England-cladded-houses-with-a-postage-stamp-for-a-garden, we designed communities solely for the over 65s.

By 2030 there will be 5 million more people over the age of 65 than there are now. Our existing housing supply is not going to be suitable; but that doesn’t just create an issue, it’s also a significant investment opportunity for creative and forward-thinking businesses.

Housing solutions don’t have to be God’s waiting rooms. They can be imaginative, beautifully-designed, communities with outdoor space and multi-faceted healthcare facilities including a doctors’ surgery, a pharmacy, chiropodist and post-op rehabilitation services. They could have a local store, a gym without the lycra, and even community cafés or bars. It should be a living, breathing, community of like-minded (or more appropriately-aged) residents. And, if we take examples from countries like Holland, we can make these communities entirely dementia-friendly, enabling those with Alzheimer’s to live in the community for as long as possible.

There are several advantages to this approach: firstly, we create communities that become self-sufficient in many respects; secondly, it frees up housing stock that may be better suited for younger residents, potentially relieving the burden on local planners.

In 2018, I published The Civil Society Strategy, which looked at how social impact bonds could be used imaginatively to kick-start the building of such communities, and I still believe that we should encourage a greater take-up of the social investment tax relief scheme. But the strategy doesn’t just focus on the old – it looks at the design for housing in general terms.

Perhaps as we examine the impacts of the pandemic, the statistics may highlight that young professionals renting accommodation in urban areas have been incredibly lonely. The craving to connect will live long in their memories and, as they move around the cities which they live in for work, places with communal spaces will become more desirable.

I’ve always believed that thoughtful design and planning have an important role to play in tackling loneliness, and I’ve never been more sure of this than I am now. Other countries build for our retired communities better than we do, and that needs to change.

There are brilliant business-led initiatives already in existence, such as co-housing and build-to-rent, and there is a clear financial case to ending loneliness.

But, ultimately, the case is a human one: living long should be full of fun, not loneliness.