‘We’re like a family really’ – finding a sense of belonging

Hamza is from Rochdale. He’s 18. He’s studying catering at college, and dreams of one day running his own business. He also has a severe hearing impairment.

We got to know Hamza when he joined Heard Not Hidden, a group for young deaf people set up by the Royal Exchange Theatre, with funding from the Co-op Foundation.

Through its work with the community in Rochdale, the theatre had identified that lots of young deaf people, and particularly those from South Asian backgrounds, were at risk of isolation. Using creative activities, they aimed to give young deaf people a platform to express themselves, learn skills, grow in confidence and start to change attitudes about disability.

When Hamza started attending Heard Not Hidden, he was quite shy. His self-confidence was low – he’d been applying for jobs and feeling frustrated that his hearing impairment was holding him back. But as the weeks went by, taking part in activities he enjoyed helped him start to bond with the other young people, volunteers and leaders.

When we visited the project, Hamza told us about the sense of belonging he’d found with the group. “We’re like a family really” is how he put it.

Belong – young people beating loneliness

Heard Not Hidden was one of the first projects the Co-op Foundation funded as we set out to tackle youth loneliness – an issue that affects one in three young people.

We’ve now built up a network of 24 projects, working in every nation and region of the UK. We call this network Belong, and it has three aims:

  • to connect and empower 5,000 young people, giving them the tools to tackle loneliness
  • to strengthen local youth services that provide vital support and opportunities
  • to start a national conversation that breaks down stigma about youth loneliness.

As a Co-op Member, you can support this work by choosing Belong as your cause – so that every time you buy Co-op products, 1% of what you spend will go to our youth loneliness projects.

You can also donate directly or raise funds online.

A long-term impact

Taking part in Heard Not Hidden is having a long-term impact on Hamza.

As his confidence grew, he started to take on more responsibilities within the project, co-ordinating activities and welcoming new young people into the group. One of his proudest moments came when he led a series of workshops raising deaf awareness in the community.

When we visited again recently, his hopes and aspirations for the future had clearly been boosted. He’d managed to get some work experience, and was throwing himself into his catering studies. He told us about the different aspects of the industry he’d been learning about, and how his grandfather had inspired him to think about going into business.

He’s become a role model to other young deaf people, and still regularly helps out at Heard Not Hidden. The project is now running independently, led by local volunteers – so it will have a long-term impact for other young deaf people and the community in Rochdale.

Meanwhile, our partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre has expanded into other areas of Greater Manchester, building on what was learned from Heard Not Hidden. Working in schools, the theatre is now focusing on how creativity can build connections between disabled young people and their non-disabled peers.

Inga Hirst, the theatre’s Director of Creative Learning & Engagement, explains:

“Heard Not Hidden fulfilled a need identified by the community in Rochdale. Our team provided a platform for young people to express themselves and their experiences of being D/deaf or hearing impaired within the South Asian community. As a result, they grew in confidence and felt empowered to help dispel the attitude that disability should be hidden.

The project has created a network for the young people to make new social connections, share positive outcomes with their families and have access to professional services. It has been fantastically rewarding all round.

We’ve been delighted with our long-term partnership with the Co-op Foundation. It’s given us the freedom to respond to the needs of the young people we work with. Building on our learning, we’re working with young disabled people who experience loneliness, helping their integration with their peers and sense of connection and community.  

As a member of the Belong network, we’re also contributing to a nationally significant evidence base that will improve the lives of more young people.”

Find out more – and get involved

Youth loneliness is still not well understood. We’re just over one year into our work on this issue, and we still have a long way to go. But through stories like Hamza’s, and insights from the Royal Exchange and our other partners, we’re starting to see the difference our work is making.

This week we published our first annual impact report , to share this progress with our supporters. Here are some highlights:

  • 294 young people benefited from our first pilot projects (including Heard Not Hidden)
  • Another 2,000 will benefit from new projects we funded in 2017
  • Thousands of Co-op Members, colleagues, customers and suppliers raised funds to support our work tackling youth loneliness.

The report also shows how co-operation is the key to our impact in communities. If you’d like to get involved, here’s what you can do:

Categories: Youth Loneliness


StellaBaker · 22nd February 2018 at 6:17 pm

Amazing work, well done to the Coop and the Royal Exchange Theatre, Rochdale. Impressed by your compassion and desire to help the community.

Raymond Budd · 22nd February 2018 at 7:44 pm

I gladly choose Belong as my cause.

Beryl Schmidt-Rieche · 22nd February 2018 at 10:49 pm

I should like to see your filed financial reports please, where cab
N I find them, are you a registered charity. i would also like to see a comprehensive financial report. Many thanks

Mike Collier · 24th February 2018 at 11:43 am

Love the story about Heard not Hidden. We in Salford have just set up Let’s Hear Salford where we are trying to improve the hearing experience of those people with hearing loss within the city first and then in the greater community. We have found with our pilot scheme in the city, that the majority of companies, surgeries and public areas pay lip service to the provision of hearing or induction loops. They fail miserably with signage, loop working and staff knowledge. We are visiting these and trying to get management to improve the situation. Also as there are no lip reading classes in Salford we are trying to set at least one up. There are many people who have suffered hearing loss who will not leave their own houses because they do not know how to communicate with the outside world. They become a recluse and introvert, a lip reading class containing people with similar problems greatly helps to alleviate this and helps them to integrate back into society. I was wondering if the Co-op might support us in our venture?
Mike Collier

Rachel Tomlinson · 25th February 2018 at 10:34 am

Being deaf in a hearing world is terribly isolating unless you live near a deaf school, deaf college, deaf club. But some do not have a choice in where to live due to family members needing to live in a particular area for work and therefore the deaf member of the family becomes more isolated. This in turn can cause frustration, depression,isolation,feeling lost and alone is very hard. All this can have a detrimental effect on confidence and also regress attitudes and behaviour in young people. I am so glad this Heard but not Hidden has been set up because it will avoid lots of young people attempting suicide, committing suicide, avoiding prisons, avoiding being placed in mental health units, avoiding severe depression, regressing confidence and attitudes etc . I look forward to seeing more about this topic in the co op magazine and hope awards will be set up for the youngsters who have benefited from this invaluable resource.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: