ROUTE FROM THE RUT
By Kay Hill
Do you find yourself sitting at home with nothing to do? Making new friends and trying new activities is easier than ever
We all love our old friends – the ones you can go half a year without speaking to, then pick up right where you left off. Friends from school and teenage days have so much shared history that it doesn’t take much effort to keep in touch; but as the years go by and people move around the country, we can suddenly find that what we really need is some new friends, just around the corner!
We’ve put together a few ideas of where to start
One of the most thriving organisations you can join is University of the Third Age (U3A) u3a.org.uk, founded in 1973, but now with more than 1,000 groups and 400,000 members in the UK. It’s open to those who are no longer in full-time employment (there’s no minimum age – the criteria is that your life should no longer be all about work and kids) and it’s so popular there’s often a waiting list. U3A revolves around members sharing their expertise and knowledge with each other, so you might find small groups learning languages, reading poetry or acquiring an almost limitless range of practical skills. If you’ve never had time to find a hobby, it’s a great place to start.
While council-run Adult Education has been seriously cut back in the last 20 years, you can still find some interesting evening classes available, from learning a new language to art and sculpture. Bear in mind that local authority classes are both more exam-oriented and more expensive than they used to be; if you want more casual, fun classes you can often find these advertised privately.
If you fancy learning a new sport or re-engaging with an old one, local council leisure centres are often a good place to start. Park Run – parkrun.org.uk – offers a free, friendly and non-competitive way to get back into jogging or running. There are often easier variations of sports available, such as Zumba Gold or walking football that are ideal for those who haven’t had much time to exercise over the years, while activities like swimming, yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi can be taken at your own pace.
Dancing offers the perfect combination of dressing up, getting fit and making friends all in one go. Thanks to Strictly Come Dancing you can find beginners ballroom and Latin classes almost everywhere – and if you have noticed you seldom do anything fun with your partner it’s a great way to reconnect (especially during the tango!). Classes often have regular social dances where you can show off your new skills. Not all dance classes require a partner – some will pair you up with another single person, or you could try line dancing or belly dancing (some groups welcome men too) where a partner isn’t required.
Taking part in group singing has been proven by numerous studies to lift mood and beat anxiety, as well as being a great way to open up a new social life. The Big Sing – big-sing.com – has a varied repertoire of uplifting music and doesn’t require an audition or need you to be able to read music, and you’ll find lots of smaller community choirs around the country that work along similar lines.
Whatever your hobby, there’s probably a group you can join – horticultural associations, local history groups, flower arranging clubs, amateur dramatic societies – have a look online or check out the notice board at your local community centre. One relative newcomer is Men’s Sheds – menssheds.org.uk – which offers a friendly environment for men to enjoy making and mending and sharing their skills – a bit like retreating to your own garden shed but with company.
If you find yourself with a bit more time on your hands, volunteering can give you a happy glow as well as a chance to make new friends. Leaders and volunteers are always desperately needed for groups like Scouts and Guides, while many people enjoy putting their skills to use by helping out at places as diverse as Repair Cafes, Record Offices or gardening in cemeteries. Your local CVS (Council for Voluntary Services) will hold a list of volunteering positions. Schools often welcome volunteers – anything from helping primary kids learn to read to conducting mock interviews with sixth formers. You may need to have a DBS criminal record check, depending on the role, but this is free and straightforward.