Young people’s experiences of the coronavirus lockdown are going to be explored in a project run by Manchester Metropolitan University researchers.

Under the guide of mentors, young adults will have the opportunity to plan and deliver an initiative to provide new personal perspectives on the mental health and loneliness of those aged between 16 and 25 during these unique times.

The project gives its participants an opportunity to create arts-based resources that help how young people can think, talk about and relate to their and other people’s solitude.

It is funded by the Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network, itself funded by UK Research and Innovation.

Project leader James Duggan, Research Fellow in the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies in the Faculty of Education, said: “Originally, it was looking at mental health, loneliness and isolation with young people who have mental health issues.

“It’s a participatory project where we get a group of young people together to experience and explore isolation through workshops, theatre and sound.

“We would have taken young people out of their homes and invite them into a neutral workspace for workshops, called Loneliness Labs for this project.

“But the getting together element obviously can’t happen anymore and so it’s become an interesting opportunity to look at how young people are responding to physical distancing and the lockdown.

“It would have been ideal if it could have launched earlier but we will still be in a form of physical and social distancing by the time it starts on June 1.”

Duggan’s project is called Left On Read, a reference to the ‘two blue ticks’ status of a WhatsApp message which indicates the recipient has seen and acknowledged the message but has not replied: a kind of Twilight Zone in which the sender anticipates an answer but may not get one, and the attached emotional consequences and stigma of that.

The six participants will be recruited through partner 42nd Street, a Greater Manchester young people’s mental health charity, and the project builds on a previous Manchester Metropolitan University study with the same organisation called Loneliness Connects Us.

Like Loneliness Connects Us, Left On Read will differ from other youth engagement projects because it is collaborative rather than instructional.

It means the young people themselves will help define the research questions to answer within a broad overarching aim and then planning and delivering the final outcomes.

Duggan said: “We’re interested in working with other young people and get them to think about what ‘home’ means to them – their relationship with their family and who they live with – and how they are coping with the physical distancing.

“They have less privacy and there are issues to negotiate in getting along.”

It is now more important than ever to get a clear picture from young people that have had their usual patterns of learning, socialising and family life disrupted

Duggan said due to the lockdown, a variety of techniques will be employed to help the adolescents and children involved capture their feelings and opinions during the pandemic, including digital media.

“We’re going to ask young people to respond to what’s called a ‘comic provocation’, a comic strip that frames an issue in order to prompt a reaction,” he said.

“We might expect back a TikTok video, a GIF or some audio.”

Some of the strands of the project are likely to include work produced with the help of the Manchester UNESCO City of Literature initiative, of which the University is a partner, and the University’s own Manchester Poetry Library.

Simone Spray, Chief Executive of 42nd Street, said: “We know that loneliness and isolation has been a growing issue and 42nd Street has been trying to understand and respond with partners for a number of years, so it is now more important than ever to get a clear picture from young people that have had their usual patterns of learning, socialising and family life disrupted.

“We must not make assumptions and should take this opportunity to learn from this unprecedented period and then rebuild and plan responsive and relevant services for our young people for the future.”


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