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Through our work with the 25 partners in our Belong network, we know the difference that good youth work can make for young people struggling with loneliness.
But how can we support more youth organisations to benefit from what we’ve learned, so the impact of Belong can be felt by young people in every local community?
To help answer this, we funded research by UK Youth, a national charity who provide a collective voice for local youth organisations. The results of this are released today with the report A Place To Belong. Here are some of the findings and how we’re responding.
“Loneliness isn’t a word they’d use, it’s something we see.”
Youth workers see loneliness as a widespread issue for young people – 82% of them agree with this. But they also recognise the barriers young people face to talking about feeling lonely. 73% of youth workers say young people don’t actively seek help with this issue.
This reinforces what we found in previous research into young people’s own views and experiences of loneliness. Despite being a common experience, young people often feel uncomfortable admitting feeling lonely, worrying how others will react.
We’ve already started looking at how we can address this. The Co-op Foundation #iwill Fund is supporting projects that break down the ‘invisible wall’ of stigma about loneliness, and create more opportunities for mutual peer support.
Youth workers, by building trusting relationships with young people, can work with them sensitively to explore ‘difficult’ topics like loneliness. But just as this can be challenging for young people, A Place to Belong reveals that many youth workers themselves could also need help to engage with this subject more confidently.
“It is difficult to address loneliness… I have worked with members of staff who feel awkward to approach this topic with a young person”
Half of youth workers believe a lack of training is a barrier to tackling loneliness. As one of them told UK Youth’s researchers, “You don’t know what you’re going to unleash, and if you’re not confident…maybe you’re better leaving it alone”.
These concerns reflect the fact that although a common experience, on an individual level loneliness can be linked to a web of complex personal issues, from family breakdown to mental health.
This feeds into many of UK Youth’s recommendations, which include:
- Improved training and resources for youth workers
- Ongoing support for a network to share ideas and experiences
- Better links between youth organisations and local education and health services, to provide more joined-up support and access to specialist help when needed
We’re keen to help address these needs, so in partnership with the UK Government we’ll be using part of our new £2 million Building Connections Fund youth strand to develop resources to increase the confidence and capabilities of all youth organisations to tackle loneliness.
“We need to bring young people to the forefront of the debate – they need to be involved in this discussion.”
It’s clear from UK Youth’s research that many youth organisations are already doing great work to tackle loneliness. Part of what makes youth work so successful is that it starts with what young people want to do with their lives, and offers flexible and informal help for them to take positive steps forward.
This empowering, youth-centred approach needs to run through all efforts to tackle youth loneliness. Well-run and sustainably funded youth organisations with trained and capable staff and volunteers are vital – but the most effective solutions will be those that are shaped by young people themselves.
Our grants through the Building Connections Fund will help youth organisations build on what is already working well, by working with young people to design innovations and improvements in their services. This fund opens for applications later this month, and you can subscribe to our blog to find out first when this happens.
We’d encourage any youth organisations who consider applying to the Building Connections Fund to read A Place to Belong, and discuss with your staff, volunteers and young people how these findings relate to their own experience and insights into youth loneliness. How might you be able to build on what you’re already doing, and help young people shape even more effective ways of tackling this issue?
We also call on other funders, sector leaders and policy-makers to respond to these research findings, making sure young people’s voices and experiences are central to national strategies for addressing loneliness.
And everyone can play their part. You can help raise awareness by sharing your thoughts on social media using #APlaceToBelong. Or you can support our UK-wide Belong network by choosing it as your Co-op cause – just log in to your Co-op Membership account, or join if you are not already a member (you’ll get 5% back for you, and 1% for your community, every time you buy Co-op products).
We’d like to thank the team at UK Youth for all their work on A Place To Belong, and all the youth workers and organisations who took part in the research. Let’s work together now to help make things better for young people right across the UK.