The academic lead for a gold standard survey on adolescent life satisfaction has emphasised the need for targeted “hyper-local” action to address the crisis in young people’s wellbeing. Professor Neil Humphrey, in an article published by The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit Policy@Manchester, contends that improving wellbeing among the youth requires a focus on fostering a sense of belonging to the local community. This involves enhancing social cohesion, integration, inclusivity, and establishing opportunities and structures for social support.

The #BeeWell programme, initiated in 2019 through collaboration between The University of Manchester, the Gregson Family Foundation, Anna Freud, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has engaged over 60,000 young people in Greater Manchester. The surveys covered topics such as emotions, relationships, aspirations, and health, providing valuable insights into the wellbeing of respondents. Professor Humphrey explains that the aim is to “pivot the system” and address the significant societal problem affecting young people.

Drawing on findings from the first two #BeeWell surveys – the results of the 2023 survey will be published in spring 2024 – he writes: “The research showed that neighbourhood characteristics are significantly associated with different domains of wellbeing.” He further reveals that inequalities between different social groups were found to vary across neighbourhoods, an example being “disparities in loneliness between LGBTQ+ young people and their peers differed based on the neighbourhood in which they resided.”

Another theme identified by Professor Humphrey was “the influence of social cohesion and relational characteristics of neighbourhoods.” He writes: “Young people feeling safe in their local area and feeling that there was support for wellbeing among local people were among the strongest predictors of wellbeing. Whether local people could be trusted, whether neighbours were helpful, and whether there were good places to spend their free time in their neighbourhood, were also positively associated with their wellbeing.”

Additionally, The University of Manchester academic explains, “life satisfaction was higher and emotional difficulties were lower in neighbourhoods with better access to health services and lower GP antidepressant prescription rates. Furthermore, life satisfaction was higher in neighbourhoods with lower unemployment and free school meal eligibility rates.”

In contrast: “Loneliness was higher in neighbourhoods with higher skills deprivation among children and young people, higher geographical barriers – for example, longer distance to places like schools, shops and doctors’ surgeries – and lower population density.”

Based on the vast amount of evidence obtained from the #BeeWell surveys, Professor Humphrey concludes that “place is a contributory factor for young people’s wellbeing,” adding, “it speaks directly to the levelling up agenda and highlights the persistence of inequalities at the neighbourhood level.”

He argues: “Targeted, hyper-local responses in these areas are as important, if not more so, than national initiatives. They are better placed to respond to the complex contextual factors that underpin and reinforce wellbeing inequalities.

“Our analyses of the influence of different neighbourhood characteristics suggest that in order to improve wellbeing among young people, we must emphasise and promote a sense of belonging to the local community, as well as improving social cohesion, integration and inclusivity, and building opportunities and structures for social support.”

A Place to #BeWell by Professor Neil Humphrey is available to read on the Policy@Manchester website.