Making new friends as an adult can feel impossible, not least in the aftermath of a pandemic. In the fact of record levels of reported loneliness, new events are helping women across the UK find their tribe.
When Ines, 19, moved to London from Portugal, she realised just how lonely the city could be. “I love London but sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. I find it difficult to make connections here, especially outside a university context”, she says.
Ines and I first crossed paths as part of an organised social event for the Facebook group Girls in London. The meet-up outside the Tate Modern brought together around 20 women, ranging in age from 18 to 30-years-old, united by a desire to make new friends.
Arriving as strangers, we found ourselves standing in a circle outside the imposing former power station, ready for an opportunity to chat, to forge connections, and (maybe) look at some art too.
Girls in London is the brainchild of Ida Lyckemy, who moved to the UK from Sweden in 2020. The Facebook group grew in popularity when Lyckemy posted a TikTok video advertising it. Now the group has more than 5,200 members all looking to meet new people in the capital.
“I got in contact with people who could relate to what I was feeling and I decided to start the group to create a safe space for women,” explains Lyckemy, who says the group is also open to those who identify as they/them.
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During any move to a new place, there is always a period of adaptation where you try to find a new sense of community. But this can feel more intense when you move to a city – where the rents are higher, the streets are louder, and geek2geek inloggen it feels, at times, like everyone else is busy.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, 45 per cent of adults feel occasionally lonely in England. In a separate report it found that Londoners were more likely to feel more severe forms of loneliness, feeling lonely “most” or “all of the time”, acknowledging the pandemic is likely to have exacerbated this.
The government’s own Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) found that women scored higher than men in feeling lonely.
Anna, 24, moved to London from Coventry to start a graduate job. Like Ines, we first met outside the Tate, and quickly bonded over the fact we both owned the same pair of trousers. These moments of bonding might be small, but they can quickly bring people together in this environment where everyone has a shared agenda.
There was also Kenzie, 19, who similarly moved from Coventry to the city to study but said she found London intimidating and a difficult place to befriend new people.
Even in the age of prolific meet-up apps, like Tinder or Hinge, it can still be hard to make adult platonic connections. The women suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic has, unsurprisingly, been an ongoing barrier to meeting new people. As have a number of high-profile, and tragic, stories that put the safety of women into the spotlight.
Jana, 30, is a graphic designer from Estonia. She moved to London for work a few years ago but it still feels like a new city. “I don’t have my sense of community here – yet! So I’m always in search of events and activities I can do with like-minded individuals.”
But this isn’t just a problem in UK cities. Professor Chris Webster of the University of Hong Kong wrote in a report: “Loneliness is not only still prevalent in 21st-century cities, but is so endemic that we can detect a regular pattern and measure it”.
Last year Webster led a large-scale study finding that people living in dense urban areas were more likely to feel lonely and isolated than people who lived elsewhere.
Girls in London isn’t the only group of its kind – not even in the capital; London Lonely Girls Club has been providing a similar service to a community of 15,000 women since 2018. These groups are seeing success and have found audiences in cities across the UK.
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Five years ago, Pippa Moyle created Brighton Girl when she moved to the seaside city. From this, City Girl Network was created. “I wanted that feeling of finding my home”, she says. “The whole message of City Girl is [to feel] at home in the city where you are.”
Pippa is still in touch with all 17 of the women who attended the first ever City Girl event in . “Since then, I’ve been to three weddings and four baby showers,” she recalls.
“We’ve all helped each other through break ups – I had a horrible break up in 2017 and ended up sleeping on most of their sofas. They’ve become a huge part of my life.
“They’ve become my really close friends I can always be with. I remember dancing at weddings, crying at baby showers, crying on sofas when I had nowhere else to live.”
At the Tate, new friends Anna and Kenzie tell me they already have plans to go to brunch after the meet-up. Meanwhile, I have agreed to go to Jana’s art exhibition next week.
As City Girl succeeds in making more connections, it is also expanding – there are now 20 branches from Milton Keynes to Manchester and an estimated 100,000 women within the UK network. The organisers are now looking at plans to conquer further afield in Europe, particularly Germany, next year.
Loneliness is more common than we like to admit. But in the age of social media, some are trying to find a sense of belonging. These groups encourage women to meet new people with the open-minded ethos that we all have something in common, no matter our previous life experiences. Cities can be lonely places, but they do have hearts.