This week sees youth loneliness in the spotlight once more with the launch of the Lonely Not Alone campaign. We caught up with Aaliyah, who took part in our Youth Co-operative Action project and asked her what difference the scheme had made for her and what she'd learnt about such an important issue.

As the latest research from the Co-op Foundation has shown, youth loneliness is a real problem that not many people know much about.

You might be surprised to hear that the One Small Step research found that out of an estimated 12.6 million 10 to 25-year-olds living in the UK today, 71% of the young people they surveyed are lonely at least occasionally, whilst almost 1.9 million are what's deemed as chronically lonely (defined as often or always).

It's a problem that's getting worse too, with the latest figures showing a rise of almost 400,000 since August 2020.

Awareness amongst young people

It's a problem that young people themselves aren't often aware of either, as we found when we spoke to Aaliyah. "Before the project I thought that the most lonely age group would be older people." she comments, "I didn’t realise it would be the mostly younger people, but then once I learned about it in the project it kind of made sense, because technology and phones and social media and everything."

Aaliyah taking part in our Youth Co-operative Action project

Aaliyah was part of our first Manchester cohort of Youth Co-operative Action, a social action project funded by the Co-op Foundation with a focus on tackling youth loneliness. Whilst loneliness would become a topic of interest for her the longer the project went on, it wasn't what initially inspired her to take part, "I’ve never liked school, but outside of school I’ve always been quite happy, doing the stuff that I mentioned before, like going to the cinema a lot and playing video games. I didn't have many friends, I had a few, but I did need a few more I thought.  And I thought well there’s this co-operative thing that I was told by the SENCO of my school about, and it’s like yeah - I could go on that, make more friends and do something good for the community."

As the project progressed, it's this passion for doing something good in the community that began to shine through, "Well the project was really educational so I think I view the world differently now - like because I have more knowledge about it. I think that just helps me make better choices in my day to day life."

Co-operative values and a new found confidence

A key part of the project is also the co-operative values, which is engrained in every aspect of the work. Aaliyah's awareness of these and how they apply to her day to day life is something she's taken from the project too, "I think I already had a knowledge of quite a few of them, but then other ones like solidarity...just made me more aware and campaign, and show support for everyone. I've seen equality in work too, so I guess that’s just made me more aware at my school if there’s anything going on, to go and help." 

This new found confidence and willingness to take action is something that Aaliyah also credits to the project, "Well it's definitely boosted my confidence in debating and general chat, because before it in lessons I wouldn’t really speak up as much as I do now." It also saw her speak to BBC Radio Manchester about youth loneliness and the difference the project made.

Aaliyah and Brenda appearing on BBC Radio Manchester

Despite the new found radio fame, the million dollar question though is what Aaliyah would do now if she saw someone who looked lonely, "Yeah like if I noticed it within other people I could go help them, or just be like someone they could talk to."

So there you go, proof that co-operation can empower young people to make a change not only in themselves, but in others and their community too.