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In This Together
Client: Apart of Me
Role: Project lead

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“I feared emotions. I bottled up a lot. I was scared to add my sadness to the bigger sadness of my family. I didn’t want to trigger my dad.”

How can we design better communities to help young people grieve?

Apart of Me is the first therapeutic game to help young people grieve. It's been used by thousands all over the world, but the team still felt that an integral part was missing. The co-design workshops to create this game had given the young people involved the feeling of community. They enjoyed being part of something bigger than themselves, they explored new interests and talents, and they made connections with other young people who had experienced grief. But most importantly, having this deeper experience of connectedness, the young co-designers didn’t want the community to come to an abrupt finish. I was asked to help explore the theme of community for grieving young people, as there was hardly anything out there that focussed on this issue. We gathered an inspiring team of young people, designers, therapists and a community manager to help. Together we wanted not just to improve this service, but to inspire other organisations to design communities that help guide young people through these difficult life events. 

Read the report

The challenge 

We are facing a grief pandemic. Over three million children and young people have lost loved ones to Covid-19. In this time of increased anxiety and social isolation, their grief threatens to transmute into serious, long-lasting mental health problems. 25% of under 20-year- olds who take their own life in the UK had experienced a childhood bereavement.

The psychotherapist Darian Leader says that ‘mourning requires other people’. But what does that ‘other people’ look like in a time of extreme isolation, in a time when young people feel lonelier than the elderly, in a time where community is increasingly sought in a polarising, online world. A recent systematic review on loneliness and young people’s mental health concludes: “Finding ways to give children and adolescents a sense of belonging...and to feel that they are part of a wider community should be a priority.”


“I don’t want to just sit in a circle and talk. It should be around something, around an activity, like learning a new skill. A place where everybody can be open about our joint confusion about grief. A place where we can start exploring what it means to us.”


Elsa, 17



The journey

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  • We did academic research into young people, grief and communities

  • We held in-depth user interviews with four young adults, aged between 17 and 25, and five interviews with experts

  • We conducted a survey of 131 young people based in the UK, Germany and Spain, looking at their experiences and perceptions of grief and the communities to which they belonged

  • We did a horizon scan of inspiring case studies from around the world

  • We ran 3 co-design workshops with young people who had experienced bereavement.

  • We used user stories and inspirational case studies to come up with new ideas together.

  • We split the larger group into three teams to further develop the best ideas and held a pitch event where the teams presented their proposals we chose our favorite one to take forward

  • We developed two light touch prototypes of our idea to test with a small group

  • The first was a WhatsApp challenge with bereaved young people to encourage them to build meaningful connections in the ‘real world’

  • The second was a social media challenge, called Islands Apart, developed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic with the help of a game designer. The scope of this challenge was broader than that of the first prototype as it was intended to help young people during the lockdown to take care of their mental health while staying connected to others

  • We evaluated the success and learnings from both prototypes, which we will take forward in the futureWe are currently incorporating our prototyped solutions into the service, and into useable tools for other organisations to use

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Some of the corner stones needed for a successful community 

The conclusion

There are so many inspiring, creative initiatives that are helping people in their 20s and 30s navigate their grief. But as this report has shown, there is still a huge gap and sadly a growing need for projects which seek to build effective community specifically for bereaved young people. Many organisations feel young people can be ‘harder to engage’. Another way of saying this is that ‘engaging young people requires extra creativity’. There is so much potential for organisations out there to get creative in how they design communities to guide people through these difficult life events. And we have found that the young people we have worked with are very open to helping co- design these communities.


This report will hopefully help towards a world where young people who experience grief can easily find supportive communities that help them transform their pain into creativity and compassion.

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