Growing up Under COVID-19 is a project funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted by researchers from Ecorys UK and the University of Huddersfield, in partnership with 70 young people aged between 14 and 18 from Italy, Lebanon, Singapore and the four UK home nations. It aims to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of a diverse group of young people, as well as their opinions on how the crisis has been experienced by the society and dealt with by politicians, and how it could be better managed to safeguard young people’s rights and needs.
As co-researchers in the project, young people have been trained in participatory action research and data collection methods, supported in the development of their own research ideas/projects and involved in the analysis, reporting and dissemination of research results. Young people are grouped into seven panels of 10, each overseen by an adult researcher. The project is being conducted online, including individual interviews and regular panel discussions on Microsoft Teams, and posting and collaboration on Yammer (a social network platform). It is due to finish in September 2021.
Diaries are one of the methods used by young people and have proved to be an effective way to regularly engage with the project and document experiences, feelings, opinions and concerns under COVID-19. Young people are free to use their diaries as a standalone piece of research, or to complement and even inform their diaries with findings from interviews, surveys and documentary reviews they are conducting as part of the project, or discussions with the other participants.
Young people have used this method to create written, audio, video and visual diaries that document their daily lives during this period, their opinion about COVID-related events and political decisions etc. As Isra explains in her video, some young people have started using Yammer as a ‘shared diary’, where they post articles, present their views and experiences, and get comments and inspiration from other co-researchers, as a way to develop their research and understanding.
Many young people used diaries to document their family life under COVID-19. This is just one of many meaningful dimensions that we are exploring as part of the research. Young people reported how social distancing restrictions and the vulnerability of some of their family members forced them to spend less time with their extended families, missing out on family trips and traditions.
“We were supposed to travel to Greece for two weeks to stay with our grandmother, but this has been cancelled. My grandmother is 86. I hope that I can see her next year. It’s really boring and I also miss all my uncles and my cousins who live nearby. Some of my uncles are shielding.” (M, 16, England)
On the other hand, homeworking and home-schooling gave young people the opportunity to spend more time with their family, providing them with the opportunity to spend afternoons together and learning more about each other, such as their interests and sometimes contrasting opinions.
“I spent some time with my dad, he has a lot of very far-right beliefs, and I do not share any of those, so I think I’ve become more opinionated and vocal on those, and standing up to him.” (F, 17, Scotland)
The diaries provided an insight into the struggles of more vulnerable or disadvantaged young people, caught in overcrowded or abusive households, lacking the privacy they need, and feeling cut-off from their support networks. Young people sometimes spoke of their own situation, and in other cases they spoke about the challenges facing their peers, which they had identified through their research.
_“Not having a safe space to speak with other LGBTQ+ young people has been disastrous_” (M, 14, Scotland)
On a more positive note, families have been important to try and find coping mechanisms during these difficult times. Young people’s diaries talk about puppies that families got as a way to cheer up the house and spend less time in front of a screen; about new family habits that are worth preserving even after the pandemic ends; and about parents’ attempts to build new, structured routines for their children who were struggling with motivation to study or staying active.
“So, we have to study every day from 9 until 5 or 6. My mum sits right next to us. She won’t even let us talk to each other unless it’s about school stuff. This is worse than school. When the lockdown first started, I thought “HOLIDAYS”. But on the first day of lockdown my mum started putting the rules down. 8 a.m. start. Breakfast. Joe Wicks workout. Then lessons. 1 pm lunchbreak until 2 and then lessons again until 5 or 6. Luckily, she gave up on Joe Wicks after two weeks. But that meant we had to start lessons half an hour earlier. I just can’t win! I really miss school and my friends.” (M, 16, England)
In young people’s diaries we also read about new, common challenges young people and their families are having to deal with. Unstable economic conditions have led to long queues at food banks and parents being unable to afford tuition for their children, many of whom are struggling to catch up with school. One young person - who chose to combine words and illustrations in her diary - reflects on how she waits for her mum (a healthcare professional) to come home from work after having to work long hours treating those with COVID.
For all our co-researchers, diaries remain a useful method to express themselves in the language that best suits them, and an opportunity to document changes and crystallise learnings from these unprecedented times.
As the situation evolves, our project will keep documenting family lives, common hurdles and coping mechanisms through discussions, diaries and the co-researchers outputs. Follow our project on our website: https://www.guc19.com/
Sara Rizzo is a Research Manager at Ecorys. She is managing and providing technical input into various reviews and evaluations, in the fields of youth policy and participation, employment, education and training, and social innovation. As a Project Manager of the Growing up Under COVID-19 project (Nuffield Foundation), carried out in partnership with the University of Huddersfield, Sara is managing a team of 10 researchers following 70 young people from Italy, Lebanon, Singapore and the UK as they conduct action research on their lives and relationships while the pandemic unfolds. Before joining Ecorys, Sara spent almost three years working as a Monitoring and Evaluation officer for a non-formal education programme that promotes social entrepreneurship among at-risk youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sara holds a BA in Philosophy, an MA in International Relations and an MSc in Urbanisation and Development.