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Connecting through constellations

26 January 2022

By Hannah Charlton, Corporate Communications Officer

“What’s great about Lonely Not Alone is that it invites people to share their stories and connect with other people’s stories. I think after the last 18 disjointed months, that feeling of connection will be invaluable. It certainly has been while we’ve been co-creating this campaign” – Nathan, 15, Lonely Not Alone co-designer.  

In many ways, 2021 was a year of reconnection. Lockdowns began to wane away, some of the ‘old normal’ returned to our lives and we remembered what hugs felt like again. We finally had a glimmer of light towards the end of an incredibly difficult Covid tunnel.  

However, our research showed the longer-term effects of lockdown were still negatively impacting on young people. One Small Step found a 25% increase in chronic youth loneliness* between August 2020 and August 2021. That’s a rise of 400,000 to 1.9m young people. What’s more, 85% of this group said loneliness was negatively affecting their mental wellbeing. 

This is a very real issue to overcome but, thankfully, there is a group of experts perfectly placed to making positive change – young people themselves! 

That’s why, in addition to awarding £7.1m to youth projects tackling loneliness since 2017, we’ve also been working directly with young people to tackle stigma and improve mental wellbeing through our Lonely Not Alone campaign.  

This is how we got on in 2021. 

Understanding the issue 

2021 was a step change for our popular, youth-led Lonely Not Alone campaign. 

After two years of asking everyone to show solidarity with lonely young people by wearing yellow socks, we moved into a new campaign phase where we aimed to help young people better understand loneliness. This was informed by our Theory of Change and designed to overcome two problems we’d uncovered in our research: 

  • Young people who are lonely the most often feel the most stigma – so let’s help them understand they’re not alone 
  • Young people who feel lonely the least, help others the least – so let’s help them understand the issue and recognise the need to reach out 

What was the solution? A digital universe, of course, at lonelynotalone.org

Our 15 young co-designers said the night sky reflected their feels of loneliness – dark, cold and empty. But despite this, every lonely young person is a shining and fierce star connected to others in constellations of shared experiences. 

We encouraged young people to share the one small step they’d taken to tackle loneliness in our digital universe and each story became a star in the night sky. Stars were grouped into constellations of similar experiences so lonely young people could read stories that are relevant to them and find ways to make things better.

For me, seeing our co-designers come up with such a thoughtful concept was incredibly inspiring.  

A sky full of stars  

After much planning, we eventually launched our campaign on 14 October 2021. It was finally time to introduce our universe to the rest of the world, and I couldn’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to this magical, inclusive and immersive world!  

By the end of 2021, almost 150 stories had been added to our site and our young co-designers had achieved something amazing as our research showed**: 

  • 3.1m young people say they have now seen Lonely Not Alone and 97% of this group have taken an action as a result 
  • Young people who’ve seen Lonely Not Alone are three times more likely to say they believe society is now taking youth loneliness seriously 
  • Seven out of 10 young people who recognise the campaign say they feel less alone in their loneliness after seeing it 

Seeing the impact of the Lonely Not Alone universe was fantastic. It really felt like our co-designers had created a resource that young people could go back to again and again. They’d created a space where young people could feel less alone in their feelings, while also learning about other people’s experiences.

Learning 

We wouldn’t have been able to have made such an impact without the input of our co-designers, the support of our funded partners, and our friends at Co-op. But we learned lots, too. 

This was the first year we’d engaged young content creators on Instagram and TikTok as we supported them to share their story. This was a very different type of advertising but also really authentic. From this, we found really strong online communities for things like chronic illnesses, where young people are supporting each other right now by talking about their experiences. This perfectly matches the sentiment of Lonely Not Alone. 

Secondly, we learned how important it is to have long-term goals for a campaign. We’ve been able to measure our impact and iteratively improve our campaign by tracking young people’s reactions to statements like “do you think youth loneliness is treated seriously by society?” and “is youth loneliness something to be embarrassed by?” since 2019. I’d love to share our learning with other campaigners if this would help 

I can’t wait to build on the success of Lonely Not Alone in 2022 when we will further develop our digital universe and reach even more young people. 

Thank you to everyone who’s helped us so far. 

Co-op supporting mental health

I’m proud Lonely Not Alone is contributing to how Co-op is bringing communities together to support mental wellbeing within its vision of ‘Co-operating for a fairer world’, you can find out more online.

Keep reading 

This blog was written as part of our 2021 digital Impact Report. Read more stories from this report, sign up to our blog to find out first about future funding or donate here to help us continue to build fairer and more co-operative communities.

* Chronic youth loneliness is defined as a young person who says they feel lonely often/always using the ONS Loneliness Measure

**Statistics used in this report refer to the Co-op Foundation / Opinium Lonely Not Alone survey November 2021. Fieldwork was completed by Opinium. Opinium surveyed a sample of 2,000 10 to 25-year-olds, representative of each age group (10 years, 11-12, 13-15, 16-18, 19-21, 22-25) living in the UK. Fieldwork was conducted between 15th and 23rd November 2021.   


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