Before becoming a writer, the work I did involved a great deal of moving. I rarely lived in one place for more than three years. Being the new girl all the time has made it particularly challenging to find authentic community. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tidbits to share with all you lonesome doves out there.
1. It takes time
Probably not what you wanted to hear. But it’s true. They say it takes up to two years in a new place to really be able to call it home. I wouldn’t go so far as to put a time limit on it, but it definitely takes time. The people you meet when you first arrive may not end up being friends for life. The people who come late to the party may be the ones who are with you until the end. There’s no rush in building authentic community. It needs a lot of careful nurturing.
2. It takes effort
If you’re lucky like me two houses ago, you will find a friendly and attentive neighbour who will call on you and invite you round for cups of tea, but in this day and age when neighbourliness is harder to find it’s better to go to people rather than wait for them to come to you. Yes, that means leaving the house! But the biggest question is where…
3. Scope out the territory
Now, when I first come to a new place I scope the territory. I visit every coffee shop I can find, I join the library, I see if there is a community magazine, Facebook group or website. I see what the place has to offer. As I’m a Christian I also visit every church. I make it very clear to people that I’m just visiting so no pressure is put on me. All I’m doing at this point is information gathering (and drinking lots of cups of coffee!!!)
4. Plan of action
I then look at how much free time I have and when. I decide which of the things on offer I would like to join. I also see if there is anything I would like to do that is no currently happening where I am living. When I first moved to Shenley there was no Knit and Natter group. Then another lady in the village had the bright idea of advertising one and then went by herself to the tea rooms and knitted every week on a Monday morning. After three weeks another lady joined her; a couple of weeks later I came along. Since then the group has grown to almost twenty of us. They are a such a special, loving and caring group. I am so thankful for the first lady who was bold enough to sit by herself knitting all that time. What new community group might you start? It could literally be anything…
5. Build connections
All these groups don’t need to be mutually exclusive. For example, a lot of the ladies from the Knit and Natter group have now joined the W.I.; some ladies from my church now come to Knit and Natter, and a group of people from a number of different other groups I belong to are about to start a Mah Jong group. I love people and finding out what they are good at and what they are interested in. Introducing them to others with similar interests and watching community grow is thrilling to me. Who do you know that you could connect with others?
6. Review Your Progress
In the beginning it’s very easy to join everything on offer just so that you have something to do. It’s always good to have a six month review of your life and commitments so that if you need to take something off your plate that you no longer enjoy in order to make room for something new you can. After a while you can do this annually. When I join something or commit to doing a role I say to people that it is for a year. That way if I don’t renew it the following year I have given them plenty of time to find an alternative.
I now have an annual party to which I invite people from all my groups. It’s a great way to celebrate a fantastic year and to help people mingle. Weddings bells have even rung as a result of these events!
So here’s to a very Happy New Year to you all. May it be a year of connections, community and celebration!