Mental health

The Exhale living room feels like a warm blanket: ‘When you’re here, you forget all about time’

Exhale, the ‘social living room’ has been on X’s grounds since January. It is hoped that this temporary facility will stimulate student well-being. “Everyone can be themselves and relax here.”

Students can also visit Exhale on weekends (Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk).

Two pairs of All Stars casually lean against a basket full of brand new woollen socks. Exhale visitors can put them on and then bring them home. It is as though the socks are saying ‘welcome to this space’. And, says Ailisha Shannon, this is exactly what they are intended to do. She is the project and creative leader at Exhale. “We want everyone to just ‘be’ here. When they’re here, students can forget about their obligations,” she says. From a green velvet sofa, she contentedly watches a student heating up a meal in a microwave. Close by are two other students quietly chatting at their laptops at a long table. Other students are stretched out on sofas with books or are playing board games in corners hidden behind very tall monstera plants. Exhale could not be a bigger contrast to the concrete blocks on campus.


Students may bring their own food to the space, and coffee and tea are free. “We also call Exhale a social living room,” adds Samantha Liebregts, the Head of X. She, her colleague Shannon and other people from TU Delft worked on the concept behind Exhale using focus groups. The students that took part were also clear that, not only did they need a space where they could just ‘be’, but also a space where they could make things. “They talked about tangible activities they would like to engage in, such as crochet or learning to darn your socks,” explains Shannon. This is why, apart from being a living room, Exhale also arranges a wide range of activities, meetings and workshops. And every weekday evening, students can work on their own projects under the guidance of a ‘creative professional’. On Fridays, a storytelling expert read-more-closed .

Diya, a student, comes to Exhale for these activities. She recently did a cocktail workshop with a friend. And now, on a weekday afternoon, she is studying here. She is sitting cross-legged in the film area with her back to a big video screen and her laptop on a cream coloured bean bag. She used to study in the Library, but she now prefers to come here. “As soon as I am here, I am relaxed. I forget all about time here.”

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Forgetting about time was the idea, says Shannon. She wanted Exhale to act like ‘a sort of soft bubble’ that ‘massages away any study stress’. The natural light, lamps, colours, furniture, music – everything is selected with this purpose in mind. This also includes the staff. “There is a hostess or host here every day. They are all creative people who are warm and open.” Sam and Sarah, both students, eat their lunch while chatting. This is the third time they are here. “The atmosphere is comfortable. It is so different to the rest of the campus.”

Government money

Exhale is financed by the Nationaal Programma Onderwijs (national education programme, NPO), a programme worth billions that the Dutch Government established in 2021 to ease the negative effects of the Covid crisis in education. While TU Delft spends the NPO funds in several read-more-closed , the emphasis at Exhale lies on mental well-being. “Students these days are under so much pressure,” says Liebregts. “The study pressure is high, they have stayed indoors for two years because of the Covid crisis, and society is putting ever more pressure on engineers to find solutions to the climate crisis. And if you are an international student, you also live far away from your family.”

To assess whether Exhale really helps promote mental well-being and how visitors experience the space, Shannon and Liebregts have called in the help of Laura Cassone, a behavioural researcher. “She interviewed students and asked them to rate their mental health. The outcome was far too low, though it was of course just a snapshot of a given point in time.” At the end of this year, Cassone will produce a report about her findings. “This will help us identify the function that Exhale has fulfilled and any gaps,” explains Liebregts.

As the project is paid for by NPO, it will disappear in mid-October 2024. “The funding stops at the end of 2024.” Liebregts and Shannon are in any case happy that the living room will be around for the first two months of the new academic year. “We will then be able to help a large group of new first years.” The Exhale building – that was once a beach bar in Scheveningen – will be sold. The students Sam and Sara think it is ‘a real shame’ that their favourite place will disappear. But they admit that “It is nice and quiet now and this makes it so relaxed. If a lot more students find out about Exhale, it may not feel like ‘our’ spot anymore.”

  • Exhale is open on weekdays from 12:00 to 22:30, and in the weekends from 17:00 to 22:30. The building is located on X’s West Square, just behind the beach volley ball courts.
  • TU Delft students who wish to organise small gatherings can also approach Exhale. This also applies to small student associations who do not have their own space.
News editor Annebelle de Bruijn

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