Meeting people and making new friends can be difficult at the best of times, but in this strange, socially-distanced climate, things can seem that bit more complicated. However, the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to make the idea of meeting new people feel more accessible.
Despite the sense of isolation many of us have felt during lockdown, people have also discovered new ways of staying connected with loved ones – and there’s no reason why these methods can’t be used to connect with new people too. If you’re hoping to widen your social circle, here are 7 different ways to meet people in the current climate.
1. Neighbourhood hubs
If we try to think of some of the positives that came about during lockdown, a lot of people would probably suggest that the sense of community was the main one. From clapping for key workers every Thursday to checking whether elderly neighbours needed food or essentials, many people found that – in spite of the loneliness they might have felt – a stronger sense of society was established. Cut off from family and friends, many of us began chatting to neighbours over garden fences or across balconies instead. And whilst lockdown restrictions may have loosened, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting to know (or continuing to get to know) your neighbours better.
If you want to become more established in your local community, then you might want to consider downloading the free app, Nextdoor – which is currently the only UK-wide neighbour app. Not only is Nextdoor a great way to meet your neighbours and feel connected, but it also keeps you informed about what’s going on in your local area. You can arrange a socially distanced street party, plan barbecues for your building, or simply swap local knowledge, recommendations and safety tips.
Even if you don’t make any particularly good friends this way, it’s always nice to be on friendly terms with people who live near you, and to know there’s someone happy to help out, should you need it – whether that’s feeding the cat, watering the plants while you’re away, or picking up your post. Another neighbourhood hub you may want to check out is Near Neighbours, which aims to bring together neighbours and develop relationships in multi-faith areas to improve the community.
2. Events and clubs
If you’re keen to meet people in person as opposed to virtually, and you enjoy being part of a club or group, then there are plenty of ways you can do this – while taking the necessary social distancing precautions, of course. Check out Meetup, an online service for connecting with groups and events that are within easy reach of where you live. You can meet people with similar interests and try new things, browse events by category (e.g. sports and fitness, music, food and drink, writing, arts, language, photography etc.), or keep your options open and just have a look at what sort of meetups are going on nearby. Popular events right now include socially distanced picnics, evening walks and business brainstorms. Whether you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone, pursue a passion, find support or make a career change, Meetup has all the right features to help you do this.
You could also try getting in touch with your local sports, community or leisure centres to see what sort of clubs or classes might be on offer near you. Attending a club or an event is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people – and chatting to new people becomes much easier when you can bond over your interest in the activity or event you’re taking part in.
3. Friendship apps
If you enjoy using apps but aren’t looking for love, then why not make new friends using a friendship app? Stitch is the world’s leading social app for the over 50s, and you can use it to find similar people in your local area, arrange get-to-know-each-other dinners, find travel companions, exercise buddies, or just swap messages and chat. If you’re comfortable meeting up with people you can, but during lockdown Stitch introduced all new kinds of virtual events, group chats, and online discussions. So if you want to keep things digital for now, you’ll still have plenty to keep you occupied.
If you’re a dog owner, then it’s also worth taking a look at social apps such as Meet My Dog. This is a social app designed for both dogs and their owners to meet new pals…because dogs need friends too of course! The app is location-based, so you can connect with other dog owners in your local area – and because dog-walking can be done while keeping a safe distance, it’s a convenient way of meeting new people while getting the chance to stretch your legs. Seeing your dog playing with their new friend is just an added bonus.
4. Facebook groups
If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join one of the many groups that exist there. Joining a Facebook group makes it quick and easy to communicate with others over shared interests. Often there’s no pressure to meet up, as you can still share tips, advice and stories about your hobbies and interests without leaving the comfort of your own home.
You can create a Facebook group to chat about absolutely anything — your family, a book club, a film you loved – or you can join one of the many existing groups. There are popular Facebook groups for house plant growers, people who share cleaning tips and tricks with each other, global food and recipe groups, people who are gluten-free…the list is pretty much endless. There are over 10 million Facebook groups out there, so you’re sure to find one about something you’re passionate about!
Facebook groups are also a very effective way to build a community around a brand, product, cause, or idea. Some examples of the biggest and most active existing Facebook groups are DIY On a Budget, Dogspotting, Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared, and Family Lockdown Ideas – so you can see just how diverse Facebook groups are. A group where members all pretend to be ants in an ant colony famously has nearly two million members…so if you’re looking for a place to be playful and enjoy some light relief, you’ll find that on Facebook too.
We also have some Rest Less Facebook groups that might be of interest. Our Over 50s Job Seekers group, Rest Less Lifestyle group or Later Life Learning group are great places to meet other like-minded people.
5. Online dating
If you’re looking to meet a potential romantic partner, there are dozens of dating sites and apps just waiting to be joined. Online dating is bigger than ever, with around four in ten couples now meeting this way. During a time when we’re all trying to socially distance, online dating has never seemed so convenient – and you can take plenty of time getting to know someone via phone, email or video chat before actually meeting up with them in person. Socially distanced walks and picnics are some of the most popular dates right now – although you can always keep it virtual for now, if you prefer.
One of the great things about the prevalence of online dating is that there’s a site out there for everyone. There are the “big ones”, like Match.com and Eharmony, which have millions of members and cater for people of all ages and backgrounds. There are also dating sites aimed specifically at people over 50, like Elite Singles and Lumen. And then there are the niche dating sites – those aimed specifically at vegetarians and vegans, animal-lovers, and people who love nothing more than muddy country walks.
There’s probably never been a better time to dip your toe in the online dating pool, so why not give it try? Even if you don’t find someone you spark romantically with, who knows…they may yet become a new friend. To find out more, have a read of our article on online dating in the current climate.
Note: It’s important to remember that when talking to someone new online, you should never give out personal information that could put you or your finances in jeopardy. This includes, but is not limited to, your home address and your bank details. While the majority of people use online dating sites to find love or companionship, unfortunately some will use them as an opportunity to scam others. So it’s important to keep any sensitive information private, and beware of anyone asking for money – no matter how much you like them.
6. Community forums
While joining groups are great for people with specialised interests, many of us want to meet new people in a more general setting, and to talk about a really wide range of topics. Community forums are great places to do this, and to engage with others to share knowledge, debate, and chat about anything and everything. If you haven’t checked it out already, you might want to visit our own community forum, which was created to share stories, find advice and support, and generally navigate both the joys and complexities of life over 50. We’d love to hear from you on there – you can introduce yourself here.
Another popular forum that might interest you is Reddit, which is also known as “the front page of the internet”. Millions of people visit Reddit every day to debate current affairs, share jokes and ideas, vote on polarising topics, and reply to threads in the countless different sections of the site (these are known as ‘subreddits’). There are plenty of more specialised forums based around interests including gardening, cooking, DIY, travel and reading – to name just five. To find more niche forums, simply google your area of interest and “community forum” and see what comes up.
7. Support groups
While some people might have taken lockdown in their stride, many others have found it hard to deal with – and there’s no denying that collectively, the pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health. Whether you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, loneliness, bereavement, or any other issue, there are lots of support groups out there to help. Some provide online or telephone support, but many groups meet up in person – and being able to speak face-to-face with people who’ve had similar experiences to you can be very therapeutic.
If you want to see what type of support groups are available to you, have a look at these NHS recommended ones. Mental health charity, Mind, also provides guides to support, and has its own online community Elefriends, where you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through. You can listen, share and be heard – all without judgement.
If you’re caring for an elderly or sick relative, or supporting a loved one with a mental health problem, you may want to consider joining a support group for carers. Carers UK offer both online support and in-person, local support – you can find groups near where you live here. Age UK also provides local support for carers looking after loved ones with dementia.
If you can’t find a support group in your community that meets your needs, you could always consider starting your own. Even if you don’t currently know anyone who’s gone or going through the same experiences as you, there’s nothing stopping you building your own community of support. This can be an enormously rewarding thing to do, but when setting up your group, do bear in mind that you can’t help everyone – and the broader your support group, the harder it can be to help other members understand their similarities and connect in a meaningful way.
It can be helpful to seek out professional assistance before you start a support group. You may want to speak to social service workers, doctors, therapists or members of the council, who might be able to offer help – whether it’s providing referrals to your group or helping you find a practical meeting venue. You’ll also need to think about any expenses (will you need to fundraise?), how you’ll let people know about your group, and what group guidelines you’ll want to set out. To find out more about starting up your own support group, have a read of this informative guide by UK charity Adfam.
One thing many people have learned in lockdown is how important it is to feel connected to other people, and to share meaningful interactions with both friends and strangers. Many studies show that interacting with people – even on a shallow level – helps boost our wellbeing and contributes to a better sense of belonging.
Our lives might have changed somewhat, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t forge connections, meet new people and make new friends – we just might have to be a little more resourceful and imaginative in the ways we go about it. And when our lives do go back to ‘normal’, hopefully our new friends – both on and offline – will still be part of it.