The youth co-research
- Locate the voice of young people in discussions of youth loneliness,
- Provide young people, and those that work with them, with the knowledge and insight to help them navigate unwanted and problematic loneliness.
- To develop new narratives and ways of thinking and talking about loneliness, beyond medicalised discourses and towards more inclusive ways of belonging.
- To locate youth loneliness within contemporary experiences of precarity, poverty and austerity politics in addition to settled truths about social media and isolation.
- To bring the diverse voices and perspectives of young people into dialogue and decision making about addressing problematic and painful forms of loneliness.
- To work with young people to explore and develop youth-led approaches to reducing painful forms of loneliness and develop more cooperative ways of being with one another.
The Youth Loneliness project developed the capacity of youth co-researchers to use creative methods to encourage conversations that matter in order to develop new narratives of youth loneliness and knowledge, helpful, in a spirit of solidarity, both to young people and people and organisations working with them.
The project developed through four phases.
- Engaging co-researchers (November – January, 2017) focused on building the capacity of the co-researchers to use creative methods to explore youth loneliness through a carousel of methods.
- Conducting the research (February – September, 2017) involved the youth co-researchers collecting and analyzing data using a variety of approaches developed in the first phase, especially scenario building and story telling approaches.
- Broadening the conversation (September – December, 2017) used an immersive theatre performance entitled ‘Missing’ (devised by Tricia Coleman and Jana Wendler) to share the project’s findings with groups of young people across the United Kingdom. It was performed in Rhyll, Norwich, Ballymeena, Glasgow and Manchester and semi-staged in Great Yarmouth, with a further linked conversation held in Belfast. We hosted a Youth Loneliness Summit to identify practical and political action.
- Legacy (December 2017 onwards) is linking the youth co-research to youth social action. Working with an artist, the emerging Greater Manchester Housing Association Youth Assembly and Kyso, we’ve been exploring creative responses to the Fear of Missing Out.
After the first phase of the research we identified a youth co-research agenda:
- Being 13: The transition from childhood to becoming a teenager can be awkward, when it is difficult both to relate to other young people and have conversations with adults.
- I’m New Here: Transience is a feature of many young people’s lives, whether that is moving schools or when families move or split up to moving across countries and seeking asylum – all of which can exacerbate youth loneliness.
- Being different/ queer youth: There are many forms of difference that can create vulnerability to isolation and loneliness and prevent a feeling of belonging. In this study, the issue of how this loneliness accompanies people exploring non-normative gender and sexuality was particularly highlighted and this enabled other ways that difference is picked on to emerge.
- Online spaces and connection: Social media are implicated in discussions of loneliness and in broader experiences of being young, we recognise both the pressures and constraints as well as the possibilities of social media for forming nourishing relationships.
- Asking for help, offering connection: Loneliness can make people feel awkward and anxious and may cause young people not to seek support, ask for help or offer friendship, particularly where loneliness is aligned to issues of mental health and the surrounding stigma.
- The politics of loneliness and friendship: We assert that youth loneliness needs to be considered within the broader context of how young people are growing up in conditions of austerity, precarity, inequality and the competitive pressures to achieve as an individual. We believe that responding to youth loneliness requires developing new forms of solidarity, belonging and friendship.
- Trauma, shame and silence: Loneliness is often accompanied and entangled in trauma, shame and silence, especially when young people are trapped in coming to terms with a painful past and feeling fearful of contact with others or not worthy of present positive connections.
- Questioning contagion: We question the focus on contagion in popular reporting and analyses of loneliness, such as the use of the words such as ‘plague’ or ‘epidemic’ of youth loneliness.
The project team
The Co-operative Foundation funded the Loneliness Connects Us youth co-research to understand youth loneliness from the perspective of young people, as part of the Belong Network.
The Belong Network is a UK-wide programme led by the Co-op Foundation, helping young people beat loneliness through co-operative action.