Monday, 6 December 2010

How to organise a John Doe Club meal

This weekend, my wonderful friend and ally Cat Smith, hosted a meal for people we didn't know. Or at least hadn't met before.

It all started with a random conversation on Twitter about food, more to the point, how hungry we were and what we wanted to eat. As is the nature of Twitter, there were other people who joined in. We made the decision to co-host a meal for anyone who wanted to come, as a way to primarily eat good food, but secondly to meet interesting like-minded people.

As a Londoner, I'm lucky to have an immense network of friends and family to call on in times of crisis, but for someone moving to a new city, I can imagine it would be a very lonely place. This was just another way we thought of connecting people who might become friends.

So we decided on our criteria; anyone coming had to be of left-wing persuasion, a feminist, into punk and either a vegetarian, vegan or prepared to bring veggie food. Within an hour of us both tweeting the invite for people to contact us if they were interested, we were inundated with positive responses. No one really fit all of the criteria, most were just interested in the experiment. So we set a date, privately messaged the details to those who had contacted us, and then sat back and wondered if anyone would turn up.

And turn up they did, with a plethora of food. We asked people to only cook for two as we didn't want an abundance of food or to waste any. Aside from that we didn't put any stipulations on what we asked people to bring, and were lucky to avoid any duplications. As it was, the dishes people bought actually complimented each other really well. An American friend of mine who was staying with me for the weekend and so was also there, said that when she holds dinners like this there is usually an abundance of sweet dishes - we had some tasty biscuits, but everything else was savoury.

The food aside, the best thing for me was meeting new people with similar interests. There were 9 of us in total, from three different countries and many different parts of the UK. We found out that two people went to the same university and knew some of the same people. There were shared loves of cricket, discussions about the EU working time directive and general good chat. By the end of the evening, new friendships had been formed and everyone was interested in participating in a similar event in the future. The next step is to encourage these people to go off and organise their own meals.

My advice to anyone thinking about doing a similar event is firstly, go for it! It takes practically no organisation, little work on behalf of anyone in particular and an open mind. In exchange you get amazing food, good company and a very interesting evening. I wouldn't do it on a Sunday again, purely because I was knackered and so flagged towards the end of the evening. I would also have started earlier than 7.30, as even though we ate by 8.15, the conversation was so good that no-one left earlier than 11. But aside from that, you just have to take a deep breath and get on with it. Simples.

And for those of you who didn't get the blog title reference, I would encourage you all to watch 'Meet John Doe', the 1941 Frank Capra classic starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Getting to know your neighbours breaks down barriers, and really shows that ordinary people have a lot more in common than the things that divide them, be it race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, you name it. Those neighbours don't have to be the people on your street. In a city like London you can find neighbours anywhere.

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