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Guest blog: Why social action by young people with lived experience is so important (part 2 / 3)

25 June 2021 

In her second blog on collaborative creativity with young people, Eloïse Malone from our Lonely Not Alone partner, Effervescent, talks about the importance of lived experience in social action projects. 

The Co-op Foundation is a proud partner in the #iwill Fund that aims to make social action part of life for as many 10 to 20-year-olds as possible. Many of our partners now work with young people to understand their lived experience as a way of helping their peers.  

In our culture we often tell our children fairytales.   

In fairytales, bad things happen to the most wonderful people and they often – through magic or sheer hard work – overcome them to live more happily.   

Young people and children who have experienced unusual, traumatic and complex situations often have very passionate beliefs that other people shouldn’t have to go through what they’ve gone through.   

But they also have complex experiences. If they’ve behaved differently to their peers as a response to their difficulties, it’s possible they will have been labelled as a problem or an ‘inconvenience’ to the system.  

With social action projects, young people who have often been viewed as problems in the system – the ones who act out and need to be ‘managed’ – have an opportunity to be heard, to channel what they know and to feed into something that’s useful to others. Importantly, it also helps them to get a hold on the thing that’s had a hold on them. 

This has given me the hope of doing something positive, meeting new people who I immediately felt a connection with, and creating something incredible. It’s the first piece of excitement and happiness in a long while, and I found myself so inspired by everyone and everything we were doing – Josie, 20, 2019, Lonely Not Alone co-designer 

Social action is also a way of beginning to accept that we didn’t cause every bad thing to happen. It’s easy to blame ourselves but when we meet other young people facing similar pain and challenges, it becomes more possible to believe that maybe it’s not a failing in us, but a fault in our stars.

With the young people involved in Lonely Not Alone, the profound learning experience within the group was that every person there had experienced loneliness but was also adorable, funny, witty, wise and kind. It helped us realise that if we were lonely, we weren’t alone in that. It wasn’t the case that something was wrong with us – we just hadn’t found our tribes yet.  

Knowing that people from my age range actually feel lonely is mind blowing. Mainly because young people are not associated with loneliness. So, it’s like…wait other people also feel the same way I do? Then you’re building a bridge between you and them even though you might not be able to see them, you start to build a little connection, so it feels like a community – Elorm, 17, Lonely Not Alone co-designer

Social action with a group of peers helps people facing complex experiences to learn transferable skills and have meaningful experiences. 

It’s built my confidence up massively – especially the workshops.  Feeling really vulnerable – but okay in that vulnerability – has been positive.  Being surrounded by people who understand how I felt was so good for me – Dani, 20, Lonely Not Alone co-designer

Why is lived experience so valuable for catalysing social change?  

In our society so much power lies with people who are privileged, white, middle class and middle aged.  The creative industries are dominated by people who had the connections and wealth to get a foot in the door or could live at home without paying rent while they grew their creative career

Politics and policy-making is also dominated by people with privileged backgrounds.  As a result, decisions about social policy, how to communicate health and social wellbeing messages and how to design services are often made by people who have no experience of living with those issues.   

When someone doesn’t engage with a service or follow health advice because it has no relatable connections to their reality, they are often blamed for their own continuing disadvantage or failure to succeed.  

Social action by people who have lived experience is therefore incredibly valuable to other people like them, and to the wellbeing of everyone.  

In her next blog, Eloïse will discuss how Effervescent helps young people to unearth their lived experience for Lonely Not Alone. 


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