At the end of last month Amanda from the Co-operative College went along to the summit of a Co-op Foundation funded youth research project led by Manchester Metropolitan University and 42nd Street. The project had carried out an extensive exploration of youth loneliness and isolation, working through peer-to-peer participatory methods with youth co-researchers in many different communities around the UK.
The day kicked off with an introduction to the project, emphasising that loneliness is an issue that can quickly escalate and take over other parts of our lives – an issue that is particularly acute for young people who may be experiencing these challenging feelings for the first time, and may not have developed the ability to see beyond their immediate situation.
The first event was a performance by ‘Clean Break’ theatre, a company whose students are women with experience of the criminal justice system and women at risk of committing a crime. The group of young women were described as ‘artist researchers’ who had been interviewing people, improvising and exploring issues of loneliness and then working with a commissioned playwright. In their performance the young women acted out a series of scenes depicting different types of loneliness, also using humour, music and movement. For me the ‘doctor, doctor’ sections that ran throughout the piece were interesting as they showed a number of scenarios where people were asking for help but being pushed away, for example:
“Doctor, doctor – I’ve been feeling lonely!” “Well sprinkle a bit of glitter everywhere and prance about like you’re a fairy!” or “What you need to do is wear purple!”
When introducing the research report, the MMU team talked about the problem of framing youth loneliness as something that is ‘wrong with kids’ or blaming social media, when it’s all about connecting with other people and re-thinking how we do this. This is why the project emphasised the importance of including young people’s voices and taking practical action to gain new insight. The key to thinking about loneliness is that this means something different to everyone, as everyone experiences loneliness differently. In addition, it’s an awkward subject to talk about, as it’s just not cool to be lonely. Therefore, the project team had to approach the topic ‘by stealth’ and find ways to talk about loneliness without naming and shaming, and creating a convivial and supportive space for people to open up about their experiences.