Everyone feels lonely at some point in their life. But many, particularly young people, don’t know what to do with it. Feeling isolated can lead individuals to disconnect from their peers and from themselves, as they lose confidence and the awareness that helps them deal with their emotions.
#OpenHouse is not a solution to loneliness, but it can be be a profound way to help those struggling.
It taught Nathaniel not just that he could cook for his family and friends, but that in that he had something of real value to contribute and be proud of. India learned she could try new things, even when it scared her. Ethan loved finding a community where no one judged him.
Openhouse is a fun, creative cookery class seeking to give young people the tools, trust and confidence to deal with feelings of isolation in their lives. Across eight weeks they’ll not only experience connection and hospitality, but be empowered to share it with others who need it too.
Young people and social isolation
Loneliness is increasingly recognised as a serious health concern, with young people believed to be the most vulnerable, increasingly reporting feelings of isolation. Evolving social media platforms promise us more connection than ever, but they can be more a source of harm than of help. Connection doesn't always mean community.
In April 2018 a study from the Office for National Statistics, reported by BBC News, found that ten per cent of young people aged 16-24 were ‘always or often’ lonely – the highest proportion of any age group, and three times higher than in those aged 65+. Likewise, in 2016, research by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust found that 72% of young people (aged 16-24) reported recently feeling lonely or isolated.
In 2016, Childline reported that many children found social media ‘led to them comparing themselves to others, and feeling inferior, ugly and unpopular as a result.’ In 2017 a tech report in The Atlantic wagered that smartphone usage amongst post-millennial adolescents was leaving the group ‘on the brink of a mental-health crisis’, threatening to ‘destroy a generation’. Screen addiction meant spending less (offline) time with friends and was positively linked with rising anxiety and depression.
What do we mean by loneliness?
Youthscape shares the definition of loneliness used by the Campaign to End Loneliness: ‘a negative experience that involves painful feelings of not belonging and disconnectedness from others. It occurs when there is a discrepancy between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we want, and those that we have.’ As such loneliness describes a subjective perception: not simply those who are alone but those who acutely feel alone.
What is Openhouse?
#OpenHouse is a response to this developing crisis, produced by Youthscape and generously supported by the #iwill fund; a joint investment from The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and match funded by the Co-op Foundation. The project uses food, community and public service to help a group of young people deal with feelings of isolation.
While no one initiative can ‘solve’ this growing, global problem, #OpenHouse aims to equip and empower young people with the skills to manage and recognise their feelings of loneliness now and in the future. The initiative follows research confirming that participation in shared activities and communities is a key way to counter social isolation. Particularly, we believe that the preparation and sharing of meals is a profound medium for the connection and belonging that many young people lack. 2016 research from the University of Oxford revealed that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.
#OpenHouse is a fun 8-week cooking course, serving a cohort of 10-12 young people aged 11-15 (school years 7-10), designed to help them grow in culinary skills, to develop social confidence, and to nurture a healthy awareness of loneliness and how to deal with it. The young people involved are referred by teachers, parents or carers particularly concerned about the child and their experience of loneliness, assisted by a check list to help identify those vulnerable.
They have six weeks of culinary training from a local chef, alongside space for friendship-building and developing emotional self-awareness. The course culminates in the young person preparing a community banquet for another local group known to struggle with isolation, such as the elderly. The young person will be responsible for hosting this meal: choosing the menu and décor, budgeting the food, and sending out personal invites.
The program, based at the state-of-the-art kitchen space in Youthscape’s Bute Mills hub, also includes a special meal out at a high-end restaurant: a chance for the group to be treated with hospitality and fine dining at its most professional.
There is no financial cost to the young people (or their families) involved in #OpenHouse, courtesy of the Co-op Foundation; transport can also be provided for those who would struggle with travel to Bute Mills. The young people in turn gain not just a rich, fun experience of community and cookery, but gain a certified Level 2 qualification in food hygiene too. #OpenHouse caters for all dietary preferences, including cultural and religious requirements.
Currently running for its fifth cycle, previous participants in Open House found the experience fun and interesting, and referrers said they noticed a real difference in the young people. The program is funded to run for at least two more years (six terms), and is currently being developed as a national resource.
HOW TO APPLY TO JOIN #OPENHOUSE
- Review the risk factors for loneliness on our factsheet (link above), identify young people who might want to take part, and explore if they might be interested.
- Complete a referral form for the young person.
- We will contact you to discuss if a place on the programme is appropriate.
- We will arrange to meet the young person to introduce project to them in person, so they can make a final decision about being involved.
- Parental permission will be obtained, and practical arrangements confirmed.
#OpenHouse is funded by the #iwill fund. The #iwill Fund is made possible thanks to £40 million joint investment from the National Lottery Community Fund, using National Lottery funding, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities. The Co-op Foundation is acting as a match funder and awarding grants on behalf of the #iwill Fund.