How to start a community friendship group

How to start a community friendship group

…and why your neighbours’ stories are important to hear.

The 2020 travel and movement restrictions have been tough for many people, and one of the biggest challenges for some has been the feeling of isolation.

At the same time many people have been able to build stronger bonds with their neighbours and with others in their local community. New friendships have blossomed – and in some cases new, informal, community friendship groups have emerged.

It’s not always easy to get to know new people but, once we have made contact, one of the most powerful ways to get to know them better is to share the stories of our lives.

Each of us has a story to tell

We all have stories to tell – about who we are, about our lives and our experiences. Personal stories connect people, they show us what we have in common, they help break down barriers. The people right on our doorstep also have a story to tell – but we don’t always realise it.

Humans have been telling stories in one way or another for thousands of years – and we still do. We share with each other our heartaches and joys. We tell our children stories to fire their imaginations. Stories teach us, captivate and enthral us, and they give us an insight into someone else’s world, family, culture, values, beliefs, outlook… They reveal how we see each other in this world.

Stories are a powerful way to communicate and build connection at a more meaningful level. When we hear someone’s story, we are more able to understand – and empathise – with them. We can also often see ourselves and our own lives reflected back.

Building a community friendship group

In so many places in the world, people live isolated lives, not even knowing who their closest neighbours are. But when we take steps to get to know people and share stories, we can build community right from our doorstep.

We can learn a lot from people who have different backgrounds and experience to our own. For example, getting to know people with a different cultural heritage and different first language can be so enriching, and helps us see our own lives through fresh eyes.

In the 1980s when I lived in the UK, I was involved in a local community friendship group in my town. It started when a friend of mine realised he had neighbours who had originally moved to the UK from Mauritius. He also realised there were quite a few people from Mauritius in the local area, so he decided to get to know them. He got his own friends involved in organising meet-ups and events to bring everyone together. We shared food and talked. I edited a monthly news bulletin to keep everyone up to date with the things that were planned. It was such good fun. And the food… well, it was delicious.

Food is a great connector

In many cultures food is a vital part of the fabric of a community. Making and sharing simple food – or teaching each other how to make different dishes is a fun way to build relationships. Food nourishes body and soul and also facilitates conversation.

Gatherings like that strengthen ties between people and can embrace people who might otherwise feel like outsiders.

If there’s a minority community of some kind where you are, for example people with a shared cultural heritage or life experience, starting an informal community friendship group can be a good way to bring people together.

So why not put some feelers out? Make contact with your neighbours and others nearby. Find out who they know also, and gradually build a group.

You could start with a simple coffee…

This engaging 7-minute video from Story Box Library shows how we are all storytellers – and how stories help us connect with a wide range of voices and ideas. The video shares insights from indigenous storytellers in Australia.

Getting curious about other people can open our eyes to so much. This article highlights a couple of my experiences in Nepal and India: Curiosity, colour and a crescent moon in Nepal and India

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