Loneliness means something different to everyone because everyone experiences things differently. But I don’t think people should be afraid of loneliness. All your emotions are important... if you’re lonely it means it you’re missing out on something, you need that social connection.

Patience, youth co-researcher, Manchester Tweet

The youth co-research

  1. Locate the voice of young people in discussions of youth loneliness, 
  2. Provide young people, and those that work with them, with the knowledge and insight to help them navigate unwanted and problematic loneliness. 
  1. To develop new narratives and ways of thinking and talking about loneliness, beyond medicalised discourses and towards more inclusive ways of belonging.
  2. To locate youth loneliness within contemporary experiences of precarity, poverty and austerity politics in addition to settled truths about social media and isolation.
  3. To bring the diverse voices and perspectives of young people into dialogue and decision making about addressing problematic and painful forms of loneliness.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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. 

  5. 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. 

  6. 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. 

  7. 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. 

  8. 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 creative approach to the peer research enabled the real experiences of young people to be voiced and complexity of the issues and emotions surrounding youth loneliness to be captured ; but this is only the start. We are continuing to explore the issues raised in the research, using a variety of arts forms with young people across Greater Manchester. We will be repeating performances of Missing, developing short films, sound productions, public art and craft with young people from across Greater Manchester and inking with Ruskin's Bicentennial Celebrations in 2019. It is important that we share and raise the profile of the insights and experiences of this growing issue for our young people and provide opportunities for discussion, social action and change. As one of the peer researchers said " "Tell them that youth loneliness exists. Tell them that we need to be able to talk about it without being ashamed of it. Tell them it's a real thing that really, really hurts. It's painful. But it might not be the worst thing and it does not need to go on forever. It can come to an end.

Simone Spray, CEO, 42nd Street Tweet

The project team

Janet Batsleer

Reader in Education & Principal Lecturer Youth and Community Work (MMU)
Research interests include co-producing arts-based research with young researchers, and young people’s political participation.
Learn More

Dr James Duggan

Research Fellow (MMU)
Research interests include co-produced creative research methods in youth and community settings.
Learn More

Julie McCarthy

Executive Producer (42nd Street)
Julie is responsible for the development and management of The Horsfall, a venue and creative programme dedicated to improving mental health and wellbeing though engagement with arts and culture.
Learn More

Sarah McNicol

Research Associate (MMU)
Research interests include education in school, FE, HE, training and community/informal learning sectors. In particular, researching educational comics in health and education contexts.
Learn More

Tricia Coleman

Arts and Event Producer
Tricia Coleman is an arts and event producer with a special interest in interactive performance, digital arts practice and new commissions.

Jana Wendler

Independent game designer; post-doctoral researcher (University of Manchester)
Jana is a player-turned-game designer, and an urban geographer Thinking about urban space more playfully, beyond consumerism and regulation, are important themes in her work.
Learn More

Project Partners

Project funder

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.