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Young people in Sheffield city centre are lonely

Green councillors (l-r) Robert Murphy, Martin Phipps and Douglas Johnson
Green councillors (l-r) Robert Murphy, Martin Phipps and Douglas Johnson

A Sheffield charity says it’s seeing an increasing number of young people who are struggling with loneliness.

The Building Stronger Communities Project, based at St Mary’s Church in the city centre, says young men in their mid 20s are particularly hit by social isolation.

It comes as a BBC online survey of 55,000 people around the world found levels of loneliness were actually highest among 16-24 year olds, with 40 per cent saying they often or very often feel lonely.

Maia Salman-Lord, who works for a number of community groups at St Mary’s Church, says social anxiety can cripple young people.

She said: “We try to engage with older people who are socially isolated but we are seeing a lot of men from their mid 20s upwards.

“So many people sit on their own in a canteen at work. We have a generation growing up who don’t have social skills and we increasingly see young people who have social anxiety and don’t have that ease to talk to people. This can be a problem when they are trying to do job interviews.

“It can be difficult to engage with people because of their anxiety, it can take people up to a year to come and see us and when they do, they are often in tears.”

Local Green Councillor Douglas Johnson says his City ward has particular barriers for people who are lonely.

“There is a very high turnover of people, particularly students, and people who live here don’t have the same neighbours for years on end like other areas.

“Students can change every few months so they don’t build up long term relationships with their neighbours. The Building Stronger Communities Project is about getting people together and supporting each other like neighbours used to.

“Some of it is being visible and hosting community events so people know they can come and speak to someone.

“As local councillors we knock on people’s doors and speak to them directly. Some of these people don’t get out very much so speaking to them in their homes is a chance to have a conversation and put them in touch with community groups or services.”

Fellow Green councillor Martin Phipps says the sense of community has been lost in Highfield. “Social isolation is a real problem in the City ward as there are a lot of flats so people don’t have the same relationship with their neighbours that they may have in a house with a front door leading on the street.

“Highfields has a lot of social isolation and we are trying to bring back that sense of community that people feel has been lost.”

Maia has organised a number of events with more planned. “We realised that a lot of the church congregation are not local so our projects are about trying to bring the community together.

“We did some research and found all the communities that live here are quite segregated. There is an Asian community, older white people, a few families, a Black community and students so there is a lot of different groups but people don’t really mix.

“We want to break down barriers between ethnicities so people will pop next door to borrow a cup of sugar.

“We want to set up some kind of forum that’s inclusive for everybody and Shoreham Street Tenants and Residents Association wants to try to keep the community together despite the influx of students.

“We recently had a community BBQ and catered for 30 people but over 90 came so it was a great success. There’s a need for adult education classes and more events.”