The media is both a window into, and a shaper of the ideologies and behaviours of society. Through it, we can catch glimpses of society’s future trajectories. 

Working with actors from the social, political and research spheres as part of the EUARENAS project, we have conducted a snapshot analysis of contemporary media discourses from across Europe. These insights have provided us with an understanding of current issues within society and we have used these to begin hypothesising about the future of our democracies. 

From this initial work, we would like to pose three core questions that we feel are relevant to policy makers, researchers and civil society actors working in the domain of deliberative and participatory democracies: 

  1. How do we mobilise people to be a part of creating the change they want to see and move from talk to action?
  2. How do inequalities and structural issues impact on how our democracies work and who is included in them?
  3. How do we work with differing priorities between different people, organisations and countries in ways that make useful progress on issues?

A short insight briefing titled ‘Future challenges and opportunities for democracy across Europe: An initial exploration of signals and drivers of change’ from this preliminary work on the project has been produced. In 2022, we will be unpicking these questions further as part of a conference in Italy… watch this space for further details.


We Are With You provides addiction recovery services in the South West of England. People’s Voice Media have been working with Manchester Metropolitan University on the service’s Social Impact Bond (SIB) evaluation, using Community Reporting methodologies to gather rich, qualitative understandings of the both the lives and experience of those who access and work in the service. These stories provide insights into people’s worlds and how they relate to the service, as well as helping to illustrate the findings from other evaluation activities, provide stimuli for on-going learning and development and involve people involved with the service in meaningful and transparent ways in the evaluation process. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the work on the project had to be suspended or was conducted remotely. However, as restrictions eased in latter 2021, we conducted more in-person story gathering activities, working directly with people accessing addiction recovery support services. Through their stories, these people have raised several key findings around accessing addiction recovery services in Cornwall including:

  • Isolation – Isolation is often part of addiction, but it makes the recovery process much more difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has made isolation worse for many (although for others it has made little difference). Isolation has no place in recovery and more care needs to be taken that people are not isolated at this stage.
  • Lived experience – Lived experience is highly valued by those accessing recovery services and there is a general point of view that support workers with lived experience of addiction and recovery provide the best service. Possibly there could be more done to assist people who use recovery services to volunteer and then work with them, if that is the path they wish to follow. 
  • Imbalanced services – While We Are With You is praised in the stories gathered, other services are not. This results in We Are With You doing a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in the local area and picking up work that should be handled by other services (e.g. contacting relatives to let them know their loved ones are in hospital). Some of the services accessed by people also fail to offer a person-centred approach, resulting in a lack of empathy in services which is traumatic to those who use them.

All of these findings will help to involve people in a meaningful way during the evaluation process, but at People’s Voice Media, we were particularly gratified to see such importance placed on lived experience by people accessing recovery services and we have a more detailed feature article on this on the Community Reporter website.


Longford Park in Stretford, Greater Manchester, is the largest municipal park in Trafford. Dating back to 1857, when it formed the Rylands estate, it became a public park in the early 20th century and is home to many heritage features. It is currently the focus of a Stage 1 heritage project looking at who currently uses Longford Park (and who doesn’t), how it is currently used and why, how it could be used in the future, and other audience development topics.

As part of this wider project, People’s Voice Media worked with City of Trees to use Community Reporting as a tool for gathering the stories of people who live and/or work in Trafford about how they use (or, indeed, don’t use) green spaces. The stories have highlighted that Longford Park is a well-loved park by those who use it, but that there is room for improvement and that perhaps more could be done to attract newcomers. On the basis of the stories gathered for this project, we made the following findings:

  • Improvements are needed for both infrastructure and facilities: This includes ensuring flooding issues are permanently resolved, carparks are resurfaced with potholes filled in, providing better toilet facilities, increasing the lighting capacity and adding more bins. This is investment in the long-term future of the park and could make it more attractive as a visitor destination.
  • More could be made of the park’s many spaces: While people generally like the park’s flexible spaces and amenities, people would like to see more made of this. Regular public events would attract visitors, and could also raise funds for the park. Amenities such as a pump track and/or expanded play area would attract young people who currently go to other parks to use these.
  • Longford Park’s status as a natural beauty spot could be bolstered: Many people visit Longford Park to enjoy being in nature. However, people feel more could be done to allow others to see the value in this. The gardens could be tended to more, with more flowerbeds and colour, while other areas could be rewilded. These spaces would, overall, need less maintenance, thus improving the ecosystem of the park while reducing costs.

These findings have come straight from the stories gathered as part of the project, raised by the people who do (and don’t) use the park. A playlist of story extracts and a full selection of the stories gathered can be found on the Community Reporter website, while a feature article gives some further insight.


The CONTINUE project will be presenting not one but two Conversation of Change events during the first quarter of 2022. Find out all of the details – and how to register – right here.

Young People in a Post-COVID World / Friday 4th February 2022 / 3:30pm to 6pm / Gorse Hill Studios

Join us for a conversation on how the pandemic has affected young people in Greater Manchester and what can be done to address these issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone, in particular marginalised young people who have seen their world turned upside down and have struggled to stay connected and integrated. Over the past few months, People’s Voice Media and Gorse Hill Studios have been working together as part of CONTINUE to gather the stories of young people from Greater Manchester who have lived through these unprecedented times.

The young people have co-led the story gathering and curation workshops and are now ready to share their findings with members of the local community at this Coversation of Change event. The event will be co-facilitated by the young people themselves and People’s Voice Media, with an aim to use their stories as stimuli for a dialogue about what civic action can be taken locally to address issues and ideas identified in them. 

It will take place at Gorse Hill Studios on Friday 4th February, 3:30pm until 6pm and is aimed at young people, local community leaders, members of the community and those who work in local government, health and social care, education sectors and beyond.

At the moment, the event is planned as an in-person event, with all COVID-safe measures in place. However, should any restrictions in place at the time make it unlikely/impossible that the event be held in-person, we will move to an online space.

Connecting Youth Through Storytelling / Thursday 24th March 2022 / 1pm to 3.30pm / Zoom

Join us for an online Conversation of Change event that will create a pan-European dialogue on the experience of youth during the pandemic.

Over the past few months, a pan-European consortium of NGOs have been working together on the CONTINUE project to gather the stories of young people from the UK, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Lithuania and Portugal who have lived through the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic

The young people have co-led the story gathering and curation workshops and are now ready to share their findings with members of the European community at this online Coversation of Change event. The event will be facilitated by Hayley Trowbridge from People’s Voice Media and aims to open up a conversation between young people and decision-makers from across Europe about how COVID-19 has impacted the lives of young people, what is different across the nations and what are the commonalities?

The Conversation of Change event will take place on Zoom on Thursday 24th March, 1pm – 3.30pm GMT / 2pm – 4.30pm CET, and is aimed at young people, community leaders, members of the various European communities, those who work in European, national and local government, health and social care, education sectors, NGOs and beyond.

About the CONTINUE Project

Connecting European Youth through Storytelling

CONTINUE will support young people suffering from social exclusion to tackle the specific challenges of post-COVID times in terms of staying connected and integrated into European communities.

CONTINUE will directly involve young people with migrant and other marginal backgrounds in the project activities in order to enhance the interaction between individuals, their communities and the pan-European levels. .

CONTINUE will be realised by a Consortium of 8 NGOs working with marginal youth groups, experienced in youth education, community-based activities, policy recommendations, working with an extended network of organisations from different sectors.

“Life was so different in so many ways. I’m not sure I can go back to how it was”: The Impact of The COVID-19 Pandemic on Young People’s Lives in Stretford, Greater Manchester

The CONTINUE project supports young people experiencing social exclusion to tackle the specific challenges COVID-19 in terms of staying connected and integrated into European communities. The project is being delivered by 8 NGOs from different European countries who are experienced in youth education and community based activities. The work involves storytelling, social action projects, policy development, knowledge exchanges, an outreach campaign and the creation of an online platform. As part of the CONTINUE project, each partner organisation has delivered a series of story gathering and curation workshops with young people from varying locations across the UK and Europe. The findings of the workshops have fed into the creation of a series of insight reports which provide an overview of young people’s experiences of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In the UK, People’s Voice Media worked with young people at Gorse Hill Studios in Stretford, Greater Manchester and the key findings cover a range of topics including education, social media, mental health and wellbeing.


I was terrified to go back to school because I’ve missed all the work.”

The transition to and from online and in-person education was challenging for young people to adapt to. Some felt being at home provided a better space for concentration and focus due to fewer distractions, whereas others struggled with finding the self motivation required when studying from home. Lockdown meant that young people had more free time to spend at home, some used this time to complete homework, whereas others focussed on developing new skills and hobbies. Overall there were mixed feelings about how COVID-19 had impacted the young people’s experiences of education, some were less bothered about what they had missed out on, as they didn’t enjoy school with some feeling happy about not being there. Others found being away from school stressful as they were concerned about catching up on work and wanted to know when things would go back to what they were used to. When lockdown restrictions were lifted, most young people felt happy to be back in school, particularly when they reunited with friends, although social distancing took some time to adjust to. Wearing masks and remembering the rules was difficult at times and there was a sense of panic around returning to school with restrictions still in place. Young people also reported how they struggled with behaviour when returning to school, highlighting how they had previously been kicked out of school for bad behaviour. From these findings it is clear that young people would benefit from more support with transitioning in and out of the different learning environments that have been created as a result of COVID. Additional help would minimise stress and ensure young people feel as though they are keeping up with work, particularly those who struggle with self learning, concentration and behaviour. More awareness and understanding of the potential panic caused by changing restrictions would be beneficial as the situation around COVID continues to evolve.

Social media 

In an ever more secluded environment, social media provided a means of keeping in touch with friends and family and staying connected with the outside world. However as time went on, many young people began to feel frustration towards connecting with people online. One young person felt social media provided a valuable means of escape:

“I immersed myself into a creative world and understood others’ worlds by withdrawing from social events.”

In embracing social media they found a sense of self they hadn’t discovered prior to the Pandemic. Nevertheless in their story they highlight how social media can easily become a toxic environment, particularly when the focus shifts to gaining and maintaining a following. Allowing young people to explore their relationship with social media and realise the potential benefits and harmful effects is vital in ensuring they build a healthy connection with it.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

“After COVID I lost a part of myself, but gradually I’m finding them.”

Young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing was heavily impacted by COVID-19 and the consequential lockdowns and restrictions. There was a significant number of stories which referenced how stress levels were heightened throughout the pandemic, particularly due to fears around restrictions constantly fluctuating. The continual disruption to young people’s routines and daily lives, combined with being instructed to stay at home caused stress levels to rise, as did the ongoing news broadcasts and updates and the expectation to continue with school work. Boredom was another common emotion experienced by the young people during the pandemic. Although they had extra free time to spend relaxing and doing hobbies with some appreciating the time to recuperate and understand their emotions, many felt trapped having to stay inside. The lack of interaction with people outside of the home contributed to feelings of depression, isolation and loneliness and whilst social media provided a means of staying in touch, it felt more distant than in-person communication. In one case a young person’s social anxiety worsened as they felt they started to forget how to communicate with people. Some storytellers report a rise in confidence levels whilst others felt it was reduced, but what is clear is that the majority struggled with maintaining their mental health and wellbeing. The feeling of being pushed into a new environment without feeling prepared for change causes panic and worry – more support is crucial in order to provide young people with coping strategies for dealing with traumatic experiences such as COVID.

The key learning from the stories include:

  • Education: More flexibility and support for young people when adjusting to new learning environments would minimise the impact on their education and ensure they feel confident in their ability to keep up with work.
  • Attitudes toward lockdown and restrictions: The production of clear, concise and accessible information specifically catering to young people with regards to the implications of the pandemic would make it easier for them to abide by restrictions and feel more informed.
  • Mental health and emotional wellbeing: Young people need to be equipped with effective coping strategies for dealing with traumatic experiences such as COVID-19 to minimise the risk of poor mental health and emotional wellbeing.
  • Social media and connections: Young people should be provided with a supportive learning space to explore their relationship with social media and the potential benefits and harmful effects it can have
  • Building bonds: People working with young people need to be observant and aware of young people’s ability and desire to speak out for support to help prioritise their safety and wellbeing.
  • Routines and daily habits: Young people have demonstrated a huge level of resilience to the constant disruption caused by the pandemic. The breakdown of routine can have a negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing as can the lack of rest – would it be possible to give them more control over their routines and daily habits?

The content of this article is based on an insight report produced by People’s Voice Media as part of the CONTINUE project and includes key findings from 15 stories gathered from young people living in Stretford, Greater Manchester in the UK. All of the stories from young people that have been gathered on the project so far can be listened to on the Community Reporter Website here.