Young Britain: Youngsters who want to belong

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Young Britons don't have much leisure time and, when they play, it isn't just for fun. It is to be with friends and gain a sense of belonging.

Laura Holmes's leisure pursuits sound like the age-old story of a misspent youth - pubbing and clubbing. Laura, 21, a 3rd- year student reading English at Exeter University, accepts that her lifestyle ``doesn't sound very imaginative''. But underlying her choices is the Nineties concern to find and stick with your own group.

``I don't necessarily go to the pub intending to get drunk,'' she says. ``It's not like that. I go to be sociable. It is practically the only place where you can see all of your friends in one place and chat. I enjoy going to clubs too because I enjoy the congregational aspect of it. Also I love dancing. It makes me forget work worries and is the best way of letting my hair down.''

The 2020 Vision survey found that young people have little sense of community - only a fifth feel part of their locality. But nearly nine out of 10 feel they belong to their group of friends. ``So they go to places where they can meet other young people,'' says Jo Gardiner, co-odinator of the survey for the Industrial Society.

It could be slobbing in front of television - anything, as long as it is not a solitary activity.

``At university it becomes incredibly easy to vegetate in front of the television,'' says Laura. ``You wouldn't believe the rubbish some students watch. Friday nights in with everyone watching Shooting Stars has become something of an institution, though ... we're all together and there is a very good communal atmosphere.''

A desire for togetherness explains the most unusual activities. ``We were fascinated by how many young people are into working for St John Ambulance,'' says Ms Gardiner. ``We asked why they wanted to do all that training and sit around at events for hours waiting for someone to faint. They said it was a great way to meet other young people and they felt they belonged.''

Many girls, however, feel that school leisure activities are often really about boys getting together. ``Their views raise the question of whether young men and women want to belong in the same way,'' says Ms Gardiner