As part of the work I’m doing with Age UK to understand and celebrate the local activities that keep people connected, I’ve been meeting groups that help people to build new friendships in Brierley Hill and Dudley.
The informal group was set up by Barbara, who wanted to expand her social circle after losing people close to her. So Barbara posted on Facebook, asking others if they would like to get together, meet new people and become friends, using this poem to grab people’s attention:
I used to have a comfort zone, where I knew I couldn’t fail.
The same four walls of busy work were really more like a jail.
I longed so much to do things I’d never done before, but stayed inside my safe comfortable zone and paced the same old floor.
I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much,
I said I didn’t care for things like dreams & goals and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside my zone, but deep down inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath and stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step, and with new strength I’d never felt before, I kissed my comfort zone goodbye, then closed and locked the door.
Barbara said “I felt like that after losing so many people out of my life in one year. So I started New Friends. Lots of people messaged me, over a thousand in 12 hours! 25 came the first night of meetings, majority stayed, until their confidence grew, and some picked up their life and started employment. Others just moved on to pastures new.”
New Friends now has 8 regular attendees who play games, share food, do quizzes or just have a natter. Everyone decides what they would like to do; occasionally they go out for meals and they’ve discussed taking trips together. Whatever they do, they have fun, end up laughing and the hours whiz by!
Group members would love more people to join them, but they recognise that it’s not just about how many turn up, it’s about the quality of the friendships they’ve made and the impact the friendships have had on their wellbeing.
None of the members knew each other before joining the group. Now they’re in touch with each other not only once a week when they meet, but on their Facebook group and chatline, swapping stories, guidance and supporting each other. When I chatted to them, every member said they felt the benefits to their wellbeing since joining.
It’s the second time I’ve joined New Friends for the evening; each time I’ve gone, I’ve felt a boost myself. I’ve been inspired by how open, warm and friendly everyone is, as well as by the simple things that Barbara does to help people feel at ease, like arranging chairs in a circle and meeting new people outside so they don’t have to walk in on their own for the first time.
So why not take the plunge and join New Friends? As Barbara says, “The hardest thing is stepping out your own front door and entering another by yourself. Please take that step, come n have a lof!” If you’re interested, you can ask to join the New Friends Facebook group or text or call the New Friends mobile number on 07491 798705 (text is best and Barbara will get back to you). Alternatively, just drop at the Storehouse, 2 Albion Street, Brierley Hill, DY5 3EE on Wednesday at 8pm.
Friday Friends currently meets on the second and last Friday of each month at 1pm at DY1 in Dudley.
Friday Friends developed when some members of Airtime, a group supporting people with respiratory conditions, felt that they would like to get together on another day to be with their newly-made friends more often. Like New Friends, Friday Friends is open to absolutely anyone over the age of 16, including people and their carers. Friday Friends now has regular members, some of whom are not members of Airtime.
Members decide exactly what they would like to do. When I visited, we chatted about each other’s weeks to help break the ice and we all took part in a couple of quizzes to get the brain firing! Once more, the stories of why people attended were very similar; it was about social contact being important for their emotional well being, getting out of the house and preventing isolation.
Friday Friends have plans to do more structured activities, such as bringing in occasional speakers on health, wellbeing and safety, having classes such as tai chi and massage. The group would like to build up its membership before committing to these activities, but current members know that it’s about the connections they’ve made and the supportive networks they’ve built simply by getting together twice a month that are more important than the activities they do! Again, when I met with members, I was struck by how welcoming and friendly they were, supporting each other to participate in inclusive ways. I’d also told Friday Friends members about New Friends and was so pleased when two members suggested they pay them a visit, so I hope that the two groups become friends themselves!
Anyone is welcome to join Friday Friends on the second and last Friday of the month, 1pm at DY1, Stafford Street, Dudley, DY1 1RT. For more information, you can ask to join the Friday Friends Facebook group.