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Putting our hearts and minds into Lonely Not Alone 2021

By Nick Crofts, Co-op Foundation CEO 

Two years ago – long before many of us had heard the phrase “social distancing” – nine young people met in Manchester to plan a campaign to tackle the stigma of youth loneliness. 

It was inspired by our research that found 80% of 16 to 25-year-olds said that concerns over how other people would react stopped them talking about loneliness.

These resourceful, creative and passionate young people spent a week sharing their experiences and coming up with ideas to make a difference. Their plan was to use yellow socks as a show of solidarity (click here if you don’t know why) and, since then, millions of people UK-wide have seen our Lonely Not Alone campaign and tens of thousands have showed that they care, including youth groupsuniversitiesministers and even a Prime Minister

A new cohort of 14 young people are back together again this week to come up with 2021 campaign ideas and everyone at the Co-op Foundation wishes them the very best of luck.  

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A problem for young people 

‘Stigma’: a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair (Cambridge Dictionary definition)

We’ve heard regularly from partners tackling youth loneliness that stigma stops young people talking about feeling lonely. But the problem doesn’t stop there. If young people are unable to talk about it, they’re also less likely to be able to get help, youth workers are less likely to be able to offer help and the chances of experiencing more chronic or intense feelings of loneliness increases. That is what Lonely Not Alone hopes to tackle. 

And we believe our campaign also goes further than combating loneliness. Feeling lonely can also have a real impact on a young person’s wellbeing. Co-op is working with Mind, SAMH and Inspire to bring communities together to support mental wellbeing as part of its vision of co-operating for a fairer world. Lonely Not Alone will contribute to this by helping young people feel more confident talking about loneliness and, eventually, more likely to take positive actions that will help themselves and their peers. 

Co-operative values 

All the young co-designers volunteering this week are showing how the co-operative values of solidarity and caring for others can help tackle loneliness, for themselves and others. 

Our latest research shows that embracing co-operation isn’t limited to 14 wonderfully kind creatives. Locked Down, Looking Out found that despite young people feeling more lonely now than they did a year ago: 

  • 65% are more likely to reach out to friends who they think may need help  
  • 46% say lockdown has made them think more about others in their local community, and they’ve taken action to help 
  • 82% have taken an action to help other young people who feel lonely 

Locked Down, Looking Out also provides thematic evidence that is helping to guide our campaign development this year.  For instance, we know that young people from rural backgrounds are significantly less likely to say loneliness is a ‘normal’ emotion for people their age than those in cities. As such, we’ve recruited young people from rural postcodes to our campaign development team to help us find out how to help.  

We also found that young people with less experience of loneliness are less likely to take actions to help others who feel lonely. To combat this, our 2021 campaign will tell the story of youth loneliness in a way that we hope will raise empathy and, eventually, promote action.  

Thank you 

We’re proud of Lonely Not Alone and we’re proud that our campaign is starting to make a difference. But we couldn’t do it alone. 

Thank you…to the young people who join forces each year to come up with cool ideas to help their friends 

Thank you…to our partner Effervescent for co-designing this campaign and helping young people come together, make friends, build skills and make a difference. 

Thank you…to DCMS for funding much of our work over the past two months. With your support, we’ve researched loneliness in lockdown and built a Theory of Change (sorry for the technical jargon) that will mean we make a bigger difference, longer term. 

I’ve been in my role as Co-op Foundation CEO for a little over three months. If I’ve learned one thing in that time it’s that anyone can be lonely, but by working together, we can all make a difference. 

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Much more to follow soon. 

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