Belfast Friendship Club: ‘a diverse bunch of people with a lot in common’
In 2009, BFC began welcoming newcomers to the city and into the safe and neutral setting of a café where they could freely meet others including those born or otherwise settled here. It now routinely attracts 30-60 people each week from 15+ nationalities, a wide age range and many walks of life.
Including the 5-10 newcomers each week, members arrive via friends, classmates, relatives, colleagues, housemates or having been ‘signposted’ from elsewhere.
‘Belfast Friendship Club – a huge gift to Belfast’
Duncan Morrow, University of Ulster, 2013
On arrival, all are greeted at the door and given a simple, hand written name badge. The information recorded is simply their first name, their country of origin and whether this is a first visit to the club. Newcomers are then invited to circulate freely, perhaps having been introduced to someone to ease the process. As noted in our evaluation ‘what is striking about the club is that ‘nothing happens’, except a round of announcements at the end of the evening, yet it is an intensely social occasion’ (Wilson, 2012).
With very rare exceptions, no activities are laid on and nothing else is organised during the
two hour weekly meetings which have become the ‘heartbeat’ that drives all else within the club. Those gathered can use the space however they wish and this generates a sense of connection arising from the apparent ‘unity in diversity’ that transcends the usual barriers operating to separate people from one another.
In the seven years since it began, BFC has grown beyond all expectation, welcoming 3500+ people to its weekly meetings, events and other activities. With core values of equality, respect and solidarity, BFC has developed characteristics of a social movement and, to date, has given rise to a great many spin-offs including language exchanges, creative projects and catering initiatives, as well as attempts to replicate its model and of which there are currently five in operation across the island of Ireland.
“I want to say thanks to the people who envisaged it could be possible and the ones who have actually made it a reality”
‘Be the change: a guide to creating safe and inclusive space’ is a booklet based upon the experience of BFC. It was published in 2014 and is available as a PDF download from our website:
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