Co-designed youth initiatives tackle loneliness

By David Harris

| 07 August 2019

Youth initiatives are using co-design to maximise engagement in projects and tackle loneliness, research has found.

"Co-design changed how young people thought about and understood loneliness," says consultant Michelle Man. Image: NPC

Social think-tank NPC (New Philanthropy Capital) studied 144 community schemes across the country to help the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport understand how a targeted £1m boost is working. 

The money - part of a key commitment from the Loneliness Strategy launched in October last year by then Prime Minister Theresa May - is aimed at tackling the issue by improving the use of community spaces.

As part of the work, outlined in NPCs report Building Connections Fund Co-Design and Community Spaces, conversations about loneliness were initiated and helped to break down stigma among young people.

A key principle of the schemes, carried out between January and March this year, was that they were co-designed with the young people using the facilities.

It found the crucial factors for engagement included cultivating a sense of ownership, shared purpose and achievement and building relationships and trust. 

Senior consultant Michelle Man, who led the evaluation, said: "Our research found that participation in co-design changed how young people thought about and understood loneliness.

"Comfort with the word ‘loneliness' varied but, contrary to common perceptions, young people were often happy to talk about loneliness."

The research also found that the use of screens and digital devices, rather than isolating young people, helped them to come together, reducing the risk of loneliness.

And for those funding anti-loneliness schemes, the research found that co-design projects can provide good results "for participants, organisations and wider communities served".

The projects included youth club extensions and improvements, as well as setting up new groups. 

Examples included:

  • YMCA Exeter Community Projects refurbishment of of a communal kitchen area, involving 18- to 25-year-olds
  • All Saints Community Project in the West Midlands annex refurbishment for a youth centre, involving 11- to 19-year-olds
  • Harrow Club w10 gazebo annex building, involving eight- to 11-year-olds

Launching the Loneliness Strategy, May described how GPs would be able to use "social prescribing" to refer lonely patients of all ages to community activities and voluntary services by 2023.

Last month, new civil society minister Baroness Diana Barran said she was particularly looking forward to tackling loneliness as part of her brief.

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