FAN groups: a different way to meet the neighbours

Posted on July 22, 2012

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This week I went to my first ever FAN meeting…

Every Saturday in Cardiff’s city centre, there is an unusual meeting of friends. From children to OAPs, those born and bred in Cardiff to those that have migrated here, as well as refugees, asylum seekers, students and ‘young professionals’. These people were once strangers but have come together through FAN meetings.

FAN, which stands for Friends and Neighbours, is a structured meeting where everyone sits in a circle and has the chance to speak on a suggested topic. There are set opening and closing statements read by the group and led by the person who chose the topic. Nobody is allowed to interrupt the person speaking and while this can seem a bit regimented it means people who may be less confident know they have an open space to speak, but can also pass it on easily if they don’t want to say anything or very little.

The topic based nature of the meeting can reduce the awkwardness often felt in ‘networking’ situations, especially when a lot of people in the room come from different backgrounds; apart from the weather it can be difficult to know where to start. Afterwards everyone can chat over a cup of tea or leave straight away if they want to, but what people have already said can help spark conversations. Meetings are short, lasting up to an hour, so it makes it easier for people with other commitments to come. They are also free to attend but donations are welcome.

A FAN meeting taking place in Cardiff:

I found the structure a little disconcerting at first; I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to speak for long enough. But while some people spoke for less than a minute, others went for around five minutes so there wasn’t any pressure. Also, speaking on a topic unprepared was daunting but again I didn’t need to be concerned about being out of my comfort zone; it wasn’t a formal talk, it wasn’t work related, and people were just interested in a friendly chat as opposed to an in depth speech.

FAN was set up by Gill, and others, in 2003 after Gill has asked her English language students to practice with their neighbours. The students didn’t know their neighbours though, and didn’t know how to meet local people. Meeting your neighbours can be more difficult than it should be.

There are now 11 groups in Cardiff which meet on six different days of the a week. There are also groups around the UK including Bristol, Ebbw Vale, Leicester, Swansea and London, and similar projects have been set up around the world. The intention is to help everybody become closer and more comfortable with their neighbours, both near and far.

To find out more about FAN groups and the FAN charity, which encourages people to set up groups, up go to their website. You can also find out about meetings near you.

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