Making friends in a new environment
Last Christmas I moved to London from Devon. I was already comfortable with the crowds and finding my way around, because I’ve visited London many times before. And technology helps with navigation now too.
But my big worry was socialising. I didn’t know anybody in the city, and I was going to become a homeworker for my Devon employer. So I realised I could become very lonely and isolated if I wasn’t careful.
In the past, friends had come naturally through school and work, whereas now I had to do it from scratch. And that felt very daunting, as I can be quite shy, and I didn’t know if my disability would put people off.
But I had to try, though I didn't know how. So I turned to the internet, and did a lot of research before the move. And I discovered a variety of possibilities that I wanted to explore.
To begin with, I found companies like Meetup and Wonderush, who organise hosted social events for all sorts of interests, designed to bring strangers together. Not for dating, just to have a good time. Plus there are groups for visually impaired and disabled people as well.
So I joined a couple of groups – Thinking Bob (a non-disabled community) and East London Vision (for the visually impaired) – because they looked easy, safe and fun to get involved with.
I was very anxious at first, of course. But everyone is there for the same reason – to meet new people and enjoy themselves. Nobody goes along to be on their own. So it's been quite easy to get chatting to people. And I’m having a great time at the events, including game nights, walks, museum tours, restaurant outings, etc.
I’ve also been on audio description and touch tours at museums and theatres, with the charity VocalEyes. That may not sound relevant, but they’ve also proven to be very social, as you get chatting to the other visitors. I’ve already made a few friends who I’ve met up with later as a result, and joined another visually impaired social group – South East London Vision. So they were unexpected bonuses.
And on top of all that, I’ve been having a go at blogging and video-making, as I discovered how many disabled people were doing it. I was nervous, yet I thought it might help to make one or two online friends and find information and advice, as I get chatting to people.
But it's gone much further than that. It’s led to real-life friendships and meetups, including trustee James from the Aniridia Network and Emily from the Fashioneyesta blog, plus I've made guest posts on other sites and even given my first ever public talk. I hadn’t anticipated any of that, but I'm very grateful for all of it.
All of those things may sound easy when written like that, but they’ve taken time and effort to develop. Researching groups and events, plucking up the courage to go to them, and forming new friendships, all take a little while. But it's been well worth it, it's given me a huge confidence boost this year.
So my general advice is to take your time looking around to find things that interest you, and any support you may need to do them. Search the internet, browse sites like Meetup, get advice on social media and forums like this, explore and interact with the blogging community, contact disability organisations and any social groups you find, talk to family and friends, etc. There will be things you can do and people you can meet, both online and in the outside world, so it’s worth the effort to find them.
Then, when you do find something that you feel is appealing and accessible, give it a go. I know that’s easier said than done, and you may need to try more than one thing to see what works best for you. But don’t give up. The first steps are always the hardest, but once you start to get involved and people get to know you, your confidence will grow. And the results over time can be surprising – they certainly have been for me this year!
What do you think of Glen’s story? Do you have any tips for socialising in an unfamiliar environment?