Making friends with Meetup

Olly Mann / 03 January 2017

Expand your interests and make new friends with Meetup - the website bringing like-minded people together.



An email pops into your inbox. ‘Reminder,’ it reads. ‘Saturday: trek up Snowdon. 18 others going.’ You glance at your hiking boots…

A second message arrives. ‘Sunday. Tea and board games at Rosie’s café.’ Others follow, inviting you to everything from philosophical discussions to beekeeping lessons.

If your life is as busy as this, there’s a good chance you’ve joined Meetup, the phenomenally successful website where people worldwide create local interest groups that anyone can join.

The site was launched in 2002, after New York-based co-founder Scott Heiferman saw how people came together in the wake of 9/11 and wanted to create something that could foster similar links.

Meetup now claims more than 27 million members and 250,000 groups, themed around everything from French conversation to football. Most members don’t know each other before their first Meetup, so it’s a great way to make friends.

We spoke to three groups using Meetup to discover the appeal.

Explore by Paw

When you meet someone for the first time and you’re both on your knees picking up dog poo, that’s quite a leveller,’ laughs Lezli Rees, organiser of pets-meets-hiking group Explore by Paw.

Lezli, 62, started the gathering three years ago when she moved to Warwickshire and fancied some human company during walks with her collie, Jem. After rejecting Facebook (‘I didn’t want the “work me” being confused with the “dog-walking me”’), she advertised on Meetup for local people and their canine companions to join her on organised walks. 

The group grew to 80 members within six months and now has more than 160, aged 18 to 84. ‘We explore the countryside and stop at a dog-friendly pub afterwards,’ says Lezli. ‘It’s dog walking as a social event.’

For regulars such as Julie Field, 58, a retired TV production manager who cares for her 89-year-old mother, Explore by Paw has been a godsend. ‘It’s something that’s mine, and yet someone else shoulders the organising, so it’s stress-free.’

‘Meetup gives people confidence to go to things on their own – it’s empowering,’ says Lezli. ‘That makes me immensely proud.’

Read our tips on how to behave when meeting new people

Southern Knights Motorcycle club

Southern Knights Motorcycle club

This diverse group of biking enthusiasts has a code that they swear by. The three Fs: friends, freedom and family.

‘Those words appear as part of our logo,’ says 51-year-old Windsor businessman Paul Ghent, who founded the Southern Knights Motorcycle Club in 2013.

This is no Hells Angels chapter. Members come from a wide variety of professional and other backgrounds. Women make up a third of the group and over-50s another third.

There are around 65 Knights, who head off on rides around the UK every week or so, and they even venture abroad from time to time. ‘The younger guys tend to do longer rides,’ says 71-year-old engineer and designer David Appleford, ‘whereas I’ll do the ones that might start at 11am and end by 3pm. We cover all abilities.’

‘One of the group was on secondment here but had to go back to his job in the South of France. He still rides up a couple of times a year to join us for old times’ sake,’ says Paul.

The Knights have had their share of adventure. On a 4,000-mile European trek, Paul’s brother Simon had his bike pulverised by a combine harvester as they were riding through Serbia. ‘Two inches closer and it would have taken off his leg,’ Paul recalls.

Shortly after, the president of the local bike club arrived in full leathers, whisked everyone to the clubhouse and hosted Simon for two days of recuperation at his own expense.

‘If you needed any proof, there it is: the biking world is a global brotherhood,’ Paul smiles.

Read our tips for making friends

New Forest Laughter Group

New Forest Laughter Group

It takes a brave soul to stand in a circle and guffaw till their ribs ache, but that’s effectively what the New Forest Laughter Group offers.

Once a month, members converge for a free, therapeutic laughter session at a local wellbeing centre.

‘We normally start with breathing exercises involving laughter from the diaphragm,’ says regular Tony Bolt, 51, a maintenance manager. ‘Then we might do something like “Mow the Lawn”, where you start your “lawnmower” – ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha – and run around.’

Group creator Lesley Lyle, 61, a positive psychology therapist explains, ‘Laughter releases brain chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, so you feel calmer and less stressed. It’s really uplifting. We’ve had people join who have been going through chemotherapy and depression.’ Others come for fun and company.

Lesley launched the group on Meetup last year. ‘At the end of a session we may not have spoken – we’ve been laughing and playing games – but a trust develops. When you’ve had a joke with somebody, you feel like they’re a friend.’

Read some of our picks of the best Meetup groups around the country

Get involved

Go to meetup.com, enter your details and join the website free. Search for groups to get involved with, either by subject (such as ‘walking’ or ‘bread-making’) or by local area. Contact the organisers and you’ll be sent invitations and information about the latest meetings.

You can start your own Meetup group through the site for a monthly charge of around £7.50. Organisers sometimes ask group members for a small contribution to cover this and other costs.

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