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LAST REVIEWED 16 January 2024

Good Thinking meets... The Great London Friendship Project

Ahead of Great Mental Health Day 2024 on Friday 26 January, David Gradon explains how he is helping young adults across London to build meaningful connections.

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In a city of 9.5 million people, it’s still possible to feel lonely. Research shows that 700,000 Londoners say they feel lonely ‘most’ or ‘all' of the time and London has even been named the loneliest place to live in the UK

And, contrary to popular belief that it’s mainly older people who experience loneliness, it affects many young adults – a recent study revealed that 16 to 29-year-olds are over two times as likely to report feeling lonely often or always than those over the age of 70.

Unfortunately, loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem and sleep disorders. 

With this in mind Good Thinking is proud to join Thrive LDN in supporting Great Mental Health Day 2024 (#GreatMentalHealth) on Friday 26 January, which is highlighting the power of relationships and social networks as a way to boost your wellbeing. We believe that, in challenging times, it’s more important than ever to reach out to others and stay connected.

To mark the day, we spoke to one of the organisations that is helping to tackle the loneliness epidemic in London. David Gradon, founder of The Great London Friendship Project, set it up after being left (like many young adults) feeling increasingly isolated and lonely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Three years on, it now has over 35,000 members, its events regularly draw 100 to 200 young adults and it has big plans to transform the community project into a national charity and bring about social change with some exciting new campaigns and partnerships.

Thank you for speaking to us, David. Could you tell us why you set up The Great London Friendship Project?

I set up the project as I know from first-hand experience just how hard it can be to find a sense of community in London and make new friends as a young adult. 

People move around a lot and many work remotely, especially post-COVID. Meanwhile, community centres, pubs and other traditional hubs for social connection are waning and the rising cost of living has made socialising more difficult than ever. 

And although we’re supposed to be more connected than ever through the internet and social media apps, sadly it often provides what I describe as a ‘fast food diet of connection’. 

But the turning point for me personally came during lockdown when I felt increasingly isolated and in a far lonelier place than I’d ever been before. I was working from home, couldn’t see my friends and my long-term relationship had come to an end.  

Over the course of the two years, my social circle had slowly but surely been devastated by the pandemic and communities that I had been part of had been forced to dissolve.

So coming out of the pandemic in 2021, I was left with the need to rebuild and yet, when I looked at the available options for connection, I was bemused that the only options seemed to be faith groups, sports clubs and, worst of all, dating apps.

There was nothing for young adults who simply wanted to connect, build new friendships, find community and rebuild their social circle, whilst exploring the very best of what London has to offer.

So, The Great London Friendship Project was very much born out of my own frustration, my own desire for connection and a passion to help other Londoners who were in the same situation as me to cultivate meaningful connections.


What does the project do for young adults?

We’re on a mission to combat the growing crisis of loneliness among young adults and create a brighter, more socially connected future for them – in which no young adult feels they have nowhere to turn when experiencing loneliness.

We do this through lots of weekly community events for adults between the ages of 20 and 39 across London, such as social walks, games nights, quizzes, board game nights and picnics.

Our events are based on member requests and feedback, it’s free to join and everything we offer is either free or low-cost, thanks to the relationships we’ve built with venues and organisations across London.

Alongside this, we also run charity events, like our Santa Challenge in aid of youth homelessness, and a range of online spaces to connect our members outside of events and befriending initiatives – for example, matching people up at Christmas or as travel buddies.

In addition, we also advocate for wide-scale social change and work with organisations, health bodies and charities to raise awareness of the prevalence of loneliness amongst young adults and tackle the stigma.

How has The Great London Friendship Project evolved?

Our very first event in November 2021 was a social walk of just 12 people, but within a matter of months, this grew exponentially. 

By May 2023, our events were getting around 100-200 people, we had over 30,000 members and we were running three or four events a week, as we are today.

However, with a full-time job in marketing and running the project in all of my spare time, I was becoming massively overstretched by how it fast it had grown. 

At the same time, I had started reading a lot about loneliness and growing my awareness about the prevalence of the issue amongst young adults.

Whilst I had known it was a problem from the sheer numbers of young adults attending our events, the stories I’d heard and my own experience, I was shocked to learn that:

And yet when I looked at the provisions and organisations set up to tackle the issue, I was shocked by how starkly little there was for the age group overwhelmingly shown to be statistically in most dire need of support – young adults.

Impassioned (but with a fair amount of trepidation), I decided to leave my stable full-time job and gave myself six months to transform the community project into a grassroots movement with national aspirations.

Since then, we’ve had 100s of conversations with local authorities, charities and other organisations to try and challenge the misconceptions, educate people about the severity of the crisis that faces us and raise vital funding to keep the project alive.

Whilst it’s an ongoing battle and often feels like we’re fighting upstream, we’ve been heartened by a number of organisations that have come out in support of our mission over the last few months and we’re now working on a range of exciting opportunities that we hope will come to fruition in 2024.

It sounds like you’ve had an exciting few years… what’s next for The Great London Friendship Project?

Whilst loneliness is particularly pronounced in London, we’re acutely aware that this issue isn’t just a London problem – it also affects young adults all over the UK.

We now have big ambitions to massively scale up our operations and become a national charity in the next 24 months, so we can support young adults across the country.

However, in order for that to happen, policymakers, health bodies and the general public first need to recognise the scale and severity of the problem. 

As part of this, we’re currently working on a major campaign that we hope will help to put this issue on the agenda, as well as challenge some of the damaging common misconceptions around loneliness. 

We’re also working with leading universities to evaluate our approach, so we can develop a strong evidence base and blueprint for our national expansion.

And, of course, in the meantime, we’ll continue to change lives through creating community and connection at our large events across London, as we help to try and make the capital a little less lonely for young people.


Visit The Great London Friendship Project website to learn more about David's story and how to join in with their events.
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