Opening up about youth loneliness: Young researchers to tackle isolation among their peers

YOUNG people are being helped to provide a unique glimpse into the loneliness that is sometimes experienced by their peers.

This innovative project will develop the capacity of 12 young people (14-25 years) to conduct peer-research into youth loneliness in Manchester and across the UK. Youth loneliness is increasingly recognised as an important and timely issue for action.

The Loneliness Project is being developed by a partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Childhood, Youth and Community and 42nd Street, a Manchester-based mental health charity for young people.

The project fully embraces a ‘peer-research’ approach, with a young person, trained by the University and 42nd Street, leading the project.

‘Honest and frank’

Janet Batsleer, Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community Work at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “Loneliness can be understood from many different perspectives and can be an awkward thing to talk about both in research and in everyday life. So, we will work with young people to develop new creative methods for talking about and researching youth loneliness. By talking to their peers it will provide an honest and frank account, giving a unique glimpse into this underreported area.”

The peer-researchers will conduct research across Greater Manchester in 2017, talking to a range of young people about loneliness before visiting other places in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to share the findings and broaden the conversation.

The 12 peer researchers will talk to 180 young people from diverse backgrounds and different experiences of loneliness, producing insight to help organisations that work with young people better understand and engage with their needs. The results will ‘lay the foundations of a campaign against youth loneliness’.

It is funded with £60,000 from the Co-operative Foundation as part of its engagement with youth loneliness. The academic leads for the project are Janet Batsleer, Dr James Duggan, and Dr Sarah McNicol. It runs from October 2016 to December 2017.


The Co-operative Foundation’s interest in investigating youth loneliness builds on its recently completed five-year programme, ‘Truth about Youth’. The Foundation worked with a group of young people to help it select a project that would combine high-quality research with strong development opportunities for young people.

Co-operative Foundation panel member Nicolle Hargadon said: “We really wanted a research project which involves young people in decision-making at all stages. Manchester Metropolitan and 42nd Street’s project exceeded our expectations by including a residential weekend that would build peer researchers’ relationships and skills, and offering them accreditation from the University which they can add to their CVs. This showed a real commitment to helping these young people and also investing time to ensure that the research collected will be valuable.”

Simone Spray, 42nd Street partner, added: “Although loneliness and isolation is often not seen as an issue relating to younger people, at 42nd Street we feel there is a real need to better understand young people’s experiences around these often complicated and sensitive issues.

“This is tricky subject matter; it means different things to different people and different communities and the impact is very personal. That is why we are so delighted to be involved with this ground-breaking piece of nationally significant work. Supported by the Co-op Foundation, we will be partnering the University and working alongside peer researchers to use new technology and creative approaches that help us to build a picture of what loneliness and isolation means to young people across the UK.

“Our experience tells us that peer research is the most powerful way to explore what’s really going on for young people; to reveal relevant and enlightening insight that can inform how we better support young people with their emotional wellbeing and mental health.”

For more information, you can follow the project on Twitter and Tumblr

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