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CEO blog: Empowering Generation Isolation through extracurricular activities

19th October 2023 by Jamie Masraff, Chief Executive, Onside

Today, we publish Generation Isolation, our second major youth research into the lives of children and young people in England. You can read the full report here, but to summarise, we’re seeing a generation of young people leading isolated lives, stuck at home, with the cost-of-living crisis further restricting young people’s opportunities outside of school. Of the 5,000 young people we surveyed:

  • 1.3 million young people have stopped activities outside school like socialising with friends, sports, and hobbies because of the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Almost 7 in 10 young people are concerned about the cost-of-living crisis.
  • 76% of young people spend most of their free time on screens and over half (51%) spend most of their free time in their bedrooms.
  • Over one in five young people (22%) say they are not learning skills to prepare them for adulthood.
  • Youth clubs help young people make friends, learn new skills and overcome difficulties – yet almost half of 11–18-year-olds do not have a youth club near their home and just 9% attend one.

We’ve moved from the pandemic to a cost-of-living crisis which is essentially locking young people down again. Families are making difficult decisions and understandably for some, extracurricular activities need to stop to pay for life’s essentials. Of the 5,000+ young people we surveyed, 69% are concerned about the cost of living and 26% have had to stop out-of-school activities because of it.

Young people spend 85% of their waking hours outside school. While we rightly prioritise education in schools, as a society we overlook the invaluable lessons and skills children learn through activities outside the school gates. They aren’t just nice to have hobbies or ways to pass the time. They can be the building blocks of a young person’s future. If we invested just a small fraction of the energy that is put into the ‘in school’ hours into those out of it and made a commitment to ensuring every young person had access to productive, skill-building activities – imagine the potential for growth for a whole generation.

Youth centres, like OnSide Youth Zones, are affordable options, at £5 for an annual membership and 50p per visit. They open doors to opportunities, with youth workers supporting young people to build social connections, learn new skills and discover their passion and purpose. Like Fawziya, a member at Unitas, Barnet Youth Zone. The Youth Zone helped her find her passion for film, supporting her in gaining a place at the prestigious Brit School. 89% of young people who attend a youth centre say it has made a positive difference in their lives. They also have greater levels of social connections; 77% say they have lots of opportunities to make friends. Yet, 91% of young people do not attend a youth centre.

It’s fair to say that this recent generation of young people has had it tougher than any generation in living memory. We have a duty to support them in developing the skills they need for adulthood. Youth centres and youth work are not a cure-all, but they are certainly a key and largely untapped part of the solution. We see their life-changing power across the OnSide Network every day. Imagine the impact if every town or city who wants a Youth Zone  can have one? That’s why we’re committed to doubling the number of young people we work with in the next five years. But we can’t do this alone. We know from our partnership model that when local authorities, businesses of all sizes and communities come together for young people, we can create more youth provision, reduce isolation, and enrich young lives. If you share in our vision, join the movement.