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Gerard Voskuilen, lecturer in Food & Beverage at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden, is working on an important project addressing youth loneliness. After extensive research, he founded a cooking school. This is not just an educational institute. It is a place where young people can learn, grow, and build social connections, which is crucial in the fight against loneliness. Gerard: “An initiative that can have a positive impact on our community and be a source of inspiration for NHL students struggling with their mental health.”

Background

Loneliness among young adults is growing and is often considered the epidemic of the 21st century. As stated in the magazine ‘The Economist’: “Loneliness is the leprosy of the 21st century.” Its impact on the well-being of young adults is significant, with potential consequences such as depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and even physical complaints. This problem is recognised by the municipality of Leeuwarden, with goals set until 2040 to improve the mental health of young people, build a supportive network, reduce loneliness, and increase resilience.

The research

Gerard is investigating whether cooking classes can help reduce loneliness among young people in Leeuwarden East. He conducted his research at the social supermarket MOES, where he was cooking with several young people for two months. This design research included conversations with young people with mental health issues and students, providing insight into their circumstances. At MOES, a cooking school was set up with interventions focused on identification, coordination, reflection, and transformation. Generative research was also applied to promote a mindset of exploring, creating, and solving problems together.

Results

Many young people generally experience positive health, but there are exceptions, such as people with disabilities, LGBTQ youth, or young people with anxiety disorders, who often feel excluded. Pressure from parents, studies, and social media play a major role in their lives, with little free time and social media often causing overstimulation. Young people in less good health often deal with a combination of mental disorders, introversion, and a limited social network, mainly with family. The cooking school was perceived as accessible.

Conclusion

While cooking as an intervention offers benefits such as a sense of purpose and improved social skills, youth loneliness remains a challenge. To prepare young people for a positive future, efforts are needed on multiple levels: parents need to engage in real conversations, schools should pay more attention to mental well-being, and universities of applied sciences can invest in social skills training. On a macro level, the government should invest in a positive future outlook to reduce mental health problems. With coordinated efforts, we can help build a resilient generation of young people, ready for the challenges of the future!