By Andy Mortimer, Co-op Foundation Communications Manager
We’ve awarded Youth Cymru more than £150,000 in grants since 2018 to help combat youth loneliness in Wales. I caught up with Kirstie to talk about the challenges they’ve faced during lockdown and how our funding has helped.
A: Tell us about Youth Cymru.
K: We work with youth-facing organisations across Wales to help provide unique, innovative and life-changing opportunities, projects and programmes to better the lives of young people. Young people in Wales are confident and strong and we aim to empower them to fulfil their potential and contribute to building the Wales we all want.
A: How has our funding helped?
K: Co-op Foundation grants support our Reach Out programme, which works with youth organisations and individuals across Wales to educate young people about loneliness and empower them to take action. Young people join creative workshops and develop social action projects, like young parent and baby cafes, to address loneliness locally. We’ve also created a free toolkit filled with activities to help young people explore loneliness and plan their social action projects.
A: Why do you think young people are particularly affected by loneliness?
K: Modern life is busy – perhaps busier than ever – and young people have to juggle education, work and health. Sometimes there’s a lack of time or energy for socialising.
Also, some young people in Wales move away from friends and family to access work or education. This can lead to a reduction in established relationships and difficulty in creating new ones. Wales has unique geography as most people live along the south coast. With limited travel links from south to north Wales and vice versa, it can be expensive and time consuming to travel around the country.
A: What’s been the impact of lockdown?
K: Since lockdown, the majority of young people have been unable to go to school, college or university, meaning they’ve had less face-to-face interactions outside their household. Some have even been stuck in university accommodation and have been unable to return home due to a lack of public transport. Levels of ‘screen time’ have also risen for us all and young people have told us that they don’t feel safe on some online spaces.
A: What has Youth Cymru done to tackle this?
K: Our initial response was to reach out to all our hubs across Wales to see how people were coping and find out if we could help in any way. I also joined other Wales-based youth workers to create #AskAYouthWorker, where everyday a youth worker is available on social media to listen to and support young people. But we wanted to do more and young people told us they wanted a safe space where they could meet up with others, have a laugh and feel supported. This is where Project Hope came from.
A: What’s Project Hope all about?
K: Project Hope was set up by Youth Cymru’s Llais Ifanc (Youth Voice) member Naomi. The group is supported by Reach Out to run sessions three times a week via Zoom covering wellbeing, skills and more informal fun. It’s open for anyone in the UK and, between meetings, young people create and post challenges, artwork and wellbeing tips on the project’s social media accounts.
A: What have you learned?
K: It’s OK to adapt and change as needs change. The vision of the group has developed and that’s OK, too. The project can be whatever the young people want and need it to be and it can flex and grow as the group does. Young people have gained friendships, confidence and ownership skills as a result.
A: What advice would you give to other youth organisations during lockdown?
K: Talk to young people and make sure they’re part of every stage of the project, from development to delivery. One of the reasons this project has taken off so well is due to the hard work and enthusiasm the young people have put in. They know what kind of sessions they would like to attend and what would attract them to them – so use that knowledge!
A: What have the young people taught you?
K: Personally, I’ve learnt how strong young people are. Under unknowns and external stresses the group has come together to create a fantastic project. Due to their enthusiasm and hard work the project has grown, now reaching young people from across the world.
Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign to de-stigmatise youth loneliness and help young people feel less alone is running for the second time this year. Find out more via Twitter and lonelynotalone.org.