Sober Social Scene – New Social Events Combatting Youth Loneliness. 

With record-breaking amounts of loneliness being reported in Ireland, two women set about creating an alcohol-free space for young people to make life-long connections.  

Participants doing yoga at Sunflower Sessions sessions event this month. Photo: Luke McCormack

Sunflower Sessions is a social event that combines music, yoga, and good ole fashioned talking to strangers. The sessions were set up by best friends, KK Lewis and Mila Gratzer, to fight against the post-college loneliness engulfing many Irish young people. The events are based on Lower Dorset Street in Phibsborough, and since they debuted in November 2023, every event they put on has sold out.  

Mila Gratzer presenting at Sunflower Sessions event this month. Photo: Luke McCormack

The girls were inspired after they found themselves struggling socially after graduating college.

“I found myself getting lost after college. We realised that the Dublin social scene made it really difficult to meet people, not in alcohol spaces. After college you’re not in situations where you’re meeting like-minded people,” Gratzer said.  

The pair went travelling after graduation, but settling back into a quiet life in Ireland became a real challenge. “When you’re travelling, you’re always being introduced to new people. Coming home was a shock to the system, and we were a little bit lost,” Gratzer said. 

Feeling lost and socially isolated is not an uncommon feeling in Irish society. A 2022 EU study into loneliness prevalence found that Ireland is the loneliest country in the EU. Over 20% of Irish people reported feeling loneliness most or all of the time. This is much higher than the EU average of 13% and double countries like Spain and the Netherlands.  

Map of loneliness prevalence in EU countries from 2022 EU Loneliness Survey

The study also found that Ireland youth are most effected by the increase in loneliness and are now more susceptible to loneliness than the elderly. Eilis Hennessy PhD, a professor of developmental psychology in UCD, explained: “People in their late teenage years to early 20s are very susceptible to loneliness because they are moving away from having social support from a family and heavily relying on social support from a friend group. But, many young people have not yet developed their own friendship network for support.” 

Strong social connections are incredibly important for the age group that Sunflower Sessions is targeting. “Pure relationships are so important to them, and more so than any other age group. They crave it,” said Hennessy. But it can also be more difficult for them to form these relationships. “It’s a time of change, and times of change are always associated with loneliness,” said Hennessy.  

Social events like this one are being hailed as pivotal in combatting loneliness in young people, “it’s very important that there are a wide variety of different social events that young people can take part in,” said Hennessy. 

The creators of the sessions are seeing have been seeing the impacts of the events from the beginning. “I’ve seen a lot of friendships coming out of the sessions. There’s been so many times I’ve seen people who showed up alone leaving in a big group to go hang out somewhere else,” said Gratzer. 

On a personal level, the sessions have managed to fix the lost feeling that inspired them in the first place. “I’ve made so many amazing connections and found genuine friends from doing this, and so has KK,” said Gratzer. 

It seems these social events may be helping young people through the times of change and disconnection from their family support system. Gratzer told us, “there was one girl one wrote in our guest book that Sunflower Sessions made her realise that moving to Dublin was the best decision she ever made.” 

Sunflower Sessions. Photo: Luke McCormack

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