The other day, I was walking from the bus stop towards my flat when an old gentleman, laden with shopping, crossed the road to join me.

When he asked me if I was located nearby, I replied, “Yes,” pointing at my house. ‘It’s new,’ he told me. ‘Used to be a factory. Made aircraft parts. Employed hundreds of men.’

And so began a conversation in which he told me he’d moved down from Scotland 45 years ago, a time when Acton in West London was awash with factories and the workers all lived on Valetta Road: ‘Used to be called Little Malta. Round here is full of history.’

‘Why don’t you write it down in case you forget,’ I said. ‘Good idea, I will,’ he replied.

Elisabeth Lurad (pictured) who moved to London on her own four years ago, revealed the benefits of talking to strangers

Elisabeth Lurad (pictured), who moved from her home in Germany to London four years ago on her own, shared the advantages of speaking to strangers

I’d never seen him before — or since — but this tete-a-tete with a total stranger brightened my day. I enjoyed hearing of the urban area’s connection to Malta.

This made me wonder whether it was a Maltese winemaker who had planted the tall-stemmed vine along the fenced off wasteland to my right, producing many small sweet fruits.

But more than that, chance chats like this — at the bus stop, in the local shop or in the coffee queue — serve as reassurance that the world remains a friendly place.

We are warned in early childhood not to ‘talk to strangers’ and, past a certain age, it’s not thought terribly prudent to do so either. But since I moved to London on my own four years ago, I’ve had to revive the skills I first learnt as a child.

The city was bound to be different to the sprawling farmhouse in the wilds of Wales that I’d left, where everyone knew everyone and social life was often conducted from passing cars on the road or via a cup of tea when fetching milk and eggs.

MY career as a food writer and illustrator keeps me busy, but with my husband Nicholas off the planet since 2004 (he was a handful, but that’s another story), it’s the seemingly inconsequential exchanges out and about that fill in the gaps.

I moved to be closer to my daughters — Poppy, who lives a 15-minute walk away across the park, and Honey, who’s a half-hour Tube ride away.

Between them, the sisters have five kids: Jessie is 23, Bonnie 21 and Harper 19, Iona 17 and Orin 15. Harper is the only exception to this rule and has since gone off to University.

Elisabeth (pictured) said it's no surprise that a new book finds passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness and cognitive development

Elisabeth (pictured) said it’s no surprise that a new book finds passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness and cognitive development

Mostly it’s the girls who get together with their gran regularly — maybe once a week — either in person (wonderful!) Texting is the preferred method for communication among those under 30, and it’s also possible to communicate via texting.

We have a close bond, but I am of an age — coming up to my 80th just after Christmas — when my contribution to family life (three children, seven grandchildren) is no longer essential. Sometimes I can go for days without seeing my loved ones.

So there comes a point in a person’s life — mine, at least — when talking to strangers is a survival tool. But I’m not the only one challenging the status quo.

Joe Keohane has written a book called The Power Of Strangers. He argues for the importance of reaching out and helping strangers.

Keohane works with sociologists, psychologists, neuroscientists philosophers, and political scientists to uncover a growing body research that shows the unexpected social and psychological benefits of talking to strangers.

His research shows that passing conversations can improve empathy, happiness, cognition development, alleviate loneliness and isolation, as well as deepen our senses of belonging.

This is not surprising to me. Given the fact that we are facing a real loneliness epidemic, it is something I believe should be prescribed across the country.

Elisabeth (pictured) said the fact that society has taught us to be fearful of strangers doesn't help the levels of loneliness in Britain

Elisabeth (pictured), stated that the loneliness levels in Britain are not helped by the fact society taught us to fear strangers. 

According to the latest statistics, levels of loneliness in Britain have risen from 5 per cent of people feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ at the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 to 7.2 per cent between October 2020 and February 2021.

It’s hardly surprising that loneliness increased during the lockdowns, but it has long been a problem. The fact that society has taught us to be fearful of strangers doesn’t help. We naturally reach for others from our earliest years of life, and even beyond. These instincts need to be reconnected.

Don’t forget, we all depend on strangers at the important junctures in our lives — to look after us in nursery school, take care of us in hospital, see us safely across roads, drive buses, clear rubbish, sweep streets.

All of these acts of kindness are not less if we do so directly or in indirect ways.

There are many lost cats who have been safely returned home to their owners in my neighbourhood app. Seats are offered to old folk on buses by those who haven’t sat down all day. Strangers lift prams up stairs. We can see the evidence everywhere.

We care about each other almost always, if we have half the chance. This is more apparent than in deep conversations with strangers. Maybe it’s my peripatetic upbringing that makes it so easy for me to speak to strangers. As a diplomat’s stepdaughter, I spent years among unfamiliar people who spoke an unfamiliar language and ate unfamiliar food.

My life was full of good fortune, thanks to my absentee father and mother (an heiress who is wealthy and well-off) as well as my absentee father (an Airman killed in World War II shortly after I was born).

Companionship, patience, how to make gingerbread men with scraps of leftover dough — indoor happiness was always at the kitchen table with the women looking after me.

While I enjoyed the outdoors, it was my constant expectation that the world would be friendly and willing to help me.

Elisabeth (pictured) said daily contact with other is vital for that feeling of community that makes the world a safer place for us all

Elisabeth (pictured) said daily contact with other is vital for that feeling of community that makes the world a safer place for us all

Everyday life in the Welsh countryside was marked by the small interactions with farmers along the roads; the postie, and waiting in Aberystwyth’s queues. It wasn’t until I moved back to London, the city of my birth, that I started to miss these random social contacts.

At first I was as much a stranger to the ’burbs of West London as the teenager just arrived from a war zone who sells me olive oil in the corner shop at the top of my street.

We became strangers, but we started to get along. He told me stories of his mother’s cooking, and I was the beneficiary of free honey cakes after sunset during Ramadan.

‘No charge,’ he said with a flash of new NHS braces as he wrapped up a sticky wedge of pistachio-stuffed baklava and added it to my basket. ‘Is custom.’

Generosity to others — the obligation to give alms once taken for granted in all societies — seems like a habit worth reviving. People are more open to each other after the lockdown. With more freedom, perhaps smiles and nods can be exchanged.

It’s not the deep relationships — friends, family — it’s the reassurance that comes from daily contact with others, casual and seemingly unimportant, but vital for that feeling of community that makes the world a safer place for us all.

The human race is a natural collaborator. As bees do in a hive we all need to help the greater good. And if this is just a cheerful ‘Good morning’ exchanged with a stranger on a cold day in an empty street, when all anyone wants to do is to hurry past, it’s enough to make the world a happier place.