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GENERATION ISOLATION: Blackburn with Darwen’s young people retreating to their bedrooms post-pandemic



A major new study into the social lives of children and young people aged 11-18 in England published this week by the youth charity OnSide, shows that young people in Blackburn with Darwen are navigating a world outside of school that is increasingly isolated and home-based, with limited opportunities for face-to-face socialising, making new friends or meeting people in person. 

Blackburn & Darwen Youth Zone, which is part of OnSide’s network of 14 Youth Zones, has today reacted to the starting findings, calling on more recognition of the vital role of youth centres to give young people opportunities to socialise, make friends and build the valuable life skills that come with real-world interaction.

Generation Isolation finds that one in five young people (19%) in England spend most of their free time alone – that’s almost a million young people (988,000) living isolated lives. 

Only 14% in Blackburn with Darwen said they spent most of their free time in person with their friends. And despite common misconceptions around how young people spend their time, the reality is that 76% spend most of their time at home, with 49%  spending most of their free time in their bedroom whilst just 2%  spend most of their time hanging out on the street. 

OnSide’s survey of 5,078 11-to-18-year-olds in England, published in partnership with YouGov, builds a picture of young people struggling to socialise away from screens, with 73% of young people surveyed spending most of their free time on screens (watching streamed content like Netflix/YouTube, gaming, spending time on their phone or watching tv). 

55% in Blackburn with Darwen say they are watching more streamed content now than before the Covid-19 lockdown; 35% of young people say they are doing more gaming now than before the Covid-19 pandemic, and 33% are watching more TV now. <Playing computer games is the most time-consuming leisure time activity for young people, with 26% spending most of their free time outside school doing this, followed by using their phones (22%), and watching streamed content (20%) 

Generation Isolation shows that youth clubs like Blackburn with Darwen Youth Zone play a vital role in enabling young people to build rich social lives, develop skills and build resilience. 84% of young people in Blackburn with Darwen who currently attend a youth centre say it has made a positive difference in their lives and 71% of that same group say it has given them new skills. Making new friends is the most popular reason for young people to attend youth centres, with 27% of people who said that youth centres had had a positive difference on their life citing this. Yet the report also highlights the lack of widespread opportunity to gain these benefits, with just 8% of young people surveyed in the northwest currently attending a youth centre.

Blackburn & Darwen Youth Zone is joining OnSide, which develops Youth Zones in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas, in calling for every young person to have access to high-quality youth centres to help them build rich social connections, achieve their potential and develop into happy, healthy thriving adults.

Other key Generation Isolation findings for the North West include:


Commenting on the findings, Blackburn & Darwen Youth Zones Head of Operations Leon Crosby said: 

“The impact of Covid-19 will be everlasting for our young people and it’s no surpise they now endure the label of “The Covid generation”. Sadly, these stats are not surprising and mirror what our Youth Workers have been observing. We are seeing a huge increase in screen addiction, sleep cycle difficulties, social anxiety, attention deficit and eating disorders. It is clear that the impact of the pandemic on young people’s emotional health and well-being will be felt for a long time to come. 

Unfortunately, although we are still tackling the lasting damage of the pandemic, we now face a new challenge with the cost of living crisis. Young people in Blackburn with Darwen need us now more than ever. Our safeguarding concerns have increased by 52% over the previous year. Of these, mental health, family environment, and neglect concerns have all significantly increased. Throughout September, we referred 22 young people to specialist agencies for further support –a 46% increase from the previous year.

To help support the increasing need of young people, we have trained staff and volunteers as Mental Health First Aiders along with 1-2-1 well-being workers every day of the week, thanks to the funding we received from The Prudence Trust and The Eric Wright Charitable Trust. This means any young person needing support with issues relating to their emotional health and well-being, whether that be anxiety, depression or loneliness, always has someone to talk to that can advise them or signpost them to other partner support services to ensure they get the holistic support needed.”

OnSide Chief Executive Kathryn Morley said: “Too many young people are living isolated lives, increasingly withdrawing into their bedrooms without the support from trusted adults. While online communication is important and has some benefits, its dominance means young people are missing out on the face-to-face interactions that build social skills, confidence, self-esteem, resilience and empathy. We cannot watch an entire generation of young people sleepwalking into social isolation and not develop the qualities that are necessary for mental well-being and that lay the foundations for them to thrive into adulthood. With pupils spending 85% of their lives outside of school, the real world has to be as enticing as the virtual one. Youth centres like <insert youth zone> are key to that, helping young people develop and build rich social lives in safe spaces designed to support them.”