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One small step for young people, one giant leap for tackling youth loneliness

Our campaign to help lonely young people share stories and improve mental wellbeing has launched

A digital universe launches today (14 October 2021) for young people to safely and anonymously share their experiences of loneliness, and the small steps they’ve taken to tackle it.

Lonelynotalone.org is the first platform of its kind and is part of our Lonely Not Alone campaign to address the stigma of youth loneliness. The campaign has been backed by NUS, Universities UK, apprenticeship providers, and the Co-op.

The platform is designed to connect young people and invites 10 to 25-year-olds to explore an exact replica of this evening’s night sky. Here, they can type or leave voice notes detailing their experiences of loneliness for others to read and learn from.

These brave, honest and authentic stories will be made into stars in the digital night sky. Each star will be put into a Lonely Not Alone constellation*, which represents a different experience of loneliness and aligns with real constellations you can see tonight.

This means that young people can look up into the night sky at any time and see their star shining bright. Lonely Not Alone reminds young people: The universe goes on forever. Loneliness doesn’t have to.

Our Trailblazing Unicorn (Pegasus) is one of the constellations. It will gradually fill with stories from young people who are lonely because they feel different from their peers.

This year’s campaign has been designed by 15 young people aged 14 to 22 in partnership with specialist co-design agency, Effervescent.

The launch comes as newly released stats from the Co-op Foundation show interventions like Lonely Not Alone work to tackle loneliness.

Researchers spoke to 2,001 10 to 25-year-olds and found:

  • Three fifths (60%) of young people who are lonely at least occasionally agree that talking about how they feel is easier to do online than in person
  • Almost two thirds of young people (64%) say helping other people makes them feel less lonely
  • Seven out of 10 young people (67%) say seeing people talk about loneliness would help them to understand other people’s feelings and experiences.

Co-op Foundation research from September found there are currently 1.9m chronically lonely young people in the UK – 400,000 more than in August 2020.

Helen, 21, one of the Lonely Not Alone co-designers, said:

“Loneliness is actually a common and natural human experience. I’ve definitely had times in my life when I’ve been lonely, but it comes and goes. Loneliness doesn’t last forever.

“It’s really important that we start to normalise talking about loneliness. I hope that through this year’s Lonely Not Alone campaign, young people can learn that other people feel the exact same way they do, and putting it into words, or talking about it can help.”

Nick Crofts, CEO of the Co-op Foundation, said:

“The past 18 months have been a challenging time for everyone, but for many young people, they’ve felt like their lives have been put on hold, making connections hard to create and maintain.

Our research found that loneliness is intrinsically linked to mental wellbeing. We hope our Lonely Not Alone campaign together with Co-op’s work in communities, can have a positive impact on young people.

“We’re so proud of our young co-designers who set about creating a space for other young people to connect and start a conversation about loneliness. Their creativity has resulted in an entire universe that allows young people to build empathy and understanding of loneliness, while sharing useful, practical tips for other lonely young people.”

Steve Murrells, CEO of Co-op said:

“The creativity of the young people who created this year’s Lonely Not Alone campaign is something to be celebrated. This year’s campaign comes at a time when we’re starting to look beyond the pandemic – a time that’s hit young people particularly hard.

“Young people deserve the opportunity to tackle loneliness, improve their mental wellbeing and be part of a world that’s fair for everyone. I hope the Lonely Not Alone universe can help young people gain comfort and connection by sharing their experiences of loneliness, and the important steps they’ve taken to help themselves.” 

Minister for Civil Society Nigel Huddleston, said: 

“As we continue our recovery from the pandemic, it’s vital to understand that for many people, loneliness will not simply go away. 

“That’s why I’m clear that we will learn from the experience of lockdown and continue our important work to tackle loneliness. 

“In my very first week as Minister responsible, I’m very impressed by the launch of the Co-op Foundation’s innovative and engaging digital platform, and I’m extremely confident that it will help a lot of young people realise that they are not alone.”

Chris Tomlinson, CEO at Co-op Academies Trust, said:

“Lonely Not Alone is a fantastic experience that our academies love to get involved with alongside the Co-op Foundation. We’re proud to support it.

“It’s vital that we have honest conversations with young people about loneliness – and even more so after the last 18 months.

“We hope that Lonely Not Alone will shine a light on youth loneliness and help youngsters feel empowered to talk about it with their peers.”

John de Pury, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, said:

“Lonely Not Alone is an important and timely campaign which will open conversations about loneliness among students and young people. The stories, experiences, and solutions to overcome loneliness shared through the campaign will provide valuable insight for students, young people and those that support them, including universities.”

Jenny Pelling, Apprenticeships Partnerships Director at Kaplan, said:

“The lockdown forced most of Kaplan’s apprentices to work remotely and, like other training providers, we had to close classrooms. That meant the informal connections for apprentices from work and studying were instantly lost. We keenly felt our apprentices’ sense of isolation and the negative effect of the pandemic on many of our apprentices’ mental health. 

“Even though we increased the amount of contact and online support, we never underestimate the lasting impact that Covid is having on so many young people’s wellbeing. Although classrooms have now re-opened and apprentices are returning to their offices, the sense of loneliness and anxiety may well continue beyond the lockdown. So, the more that can be done to re-establish connection for young people and provide opportunities to talk about how they’re feeling, the better. And that’s why we’re pleased to support the Lonely Not Alone campaign.” 

This is the third year of the Lonely Not Alone campaign. In previous years, supporters have shown solidarity with lonely young people by wearing yellow socks.

Co-op Foundation has been tackling youth loneliness since Co-op and British Red Cross research found young people were lonely more than any other age group. Since 2017, it has awarded more than £6.5m to youth projects and helped to develop networks and resources to support youth workers.

*LIST OF CONSTELLATIONS

Unicorn constellation  

The shooting stars in the Unicorn constellation are incredibly gifted, beautiful to behold, and burn with a fierce fiery heat which other people admire. They’re different to others around them, and that can leave them feeling left out in the cold.  

Crocoduck constellation 

At first glance, the Crocoduck constellation is a dark nebula: fearsome and terrifying. But look closely, and you’ll see gentle stars pulsing within. These stars pretend to be something they’re not, just to survive: they’re often lonely because nobody knows the real them. 

Firefly 

The shooting stars which make up the Firefly nebula light the way to safety, and protect the ones they love. But putting everyone else first comes at a price, and without some precious self-care, Firefly stars can burn out into little black holes of loneliness.  

Octopus 

The stressed-out stars that light up the Octopus constellation are under enormous pressure. They’ve withdrawn into deep space to focus on their bright futures, and now they can’t find their way back. They feel isolated and lonely, compressed by the intense weight of everyone’s expectations. 

Polar Bear 

The brave stars in the Polar Bear constellation are resilient and resourceful, surviving atmospheres and worlds that others couldn’t handle. But they are light-years from anyone else. Isolated, they drift across the lonely night sky, hoping to one day light up the Aurora Borealis with their incandescent energy. 

Sloth 

The misunderstood stars in the Sloth constellation glow with a quiet strength.  Some star-gazers might think they’re dull, or maybe distant, but sloth stars often don’t have enough money to join in with adventures and treats.  Their loneliness comes from hanging around filling time, whilst everyone is having fun without them. 

Urban Fox  

Stars in the Urban Fox constellation are strangers wherever they go. They’re used to being somewhere else, and they don’t quite belong in this new place — they’re finding their feet and they’re not sure where to turn for guidance or support. But Urban Foxes are switched on. Over time, they will adapt to their environment, see the other stars around them, and they will thrive. 

Hedgehog 

The Hedgehog constellation is lit up with selfless stars, who don’t know how loved they are. As they navigate challenges that many couldn’t imagine, they put up a force field of loneliness around themselves, afraid to accept help – and scared to pull others into their orbit. 

Moth 

The brilliant stars in the Moth constellation have endured a huge change, and it’s made life painful. This sudden transition is one they didn’t choose for themselves.  They’re lonely, because the bright future they believed in has been snatched away, and now they’re fluttering about in the dark. 

Caged Bird 

The stars in the Caged Bird constellation have so much to give, but someone else is deliberately eclipsing their light. They are bullied and they are trapped, denied the opportunity to sing. It’s hard to shine brightly when you feel like the only star in the sky. 

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