SOCIAL media has influenced the way people make friends and keep in touch, and groups across the area are showing there are more ways than ever to build communities.
Old-fashioned community spirit goes a long way towards uniting people, but growing Facebook groups have shown people are connecting in their thousands by sharing pictures and news online.
Terry Rhodes is an admin for ‘Dave Rowland’s Gosport Area: memories and photos, past and present’, which now has more than 22,000 members.
The group was set up by her friend Dave, who died earlier this year aged 69, and it has been active for more than five years with people sharing memories and thoughts about the area.
Terry said: ‘There wasn’t anything like it in Gosport really. Obviously Facebook is very easy to use, if you have to be at home you can access it and you don’t have to go to a community centre.
‘You can have a Gosport community group that’s worldwide, we do have members from all over the world, particularly being a naval area. People like to be able to keep in touch to see Gosport in real time as it is today.’
Facebook groups often give people a sense of place and community and being part of something that’s bigger than just them.
‘It’s amazing how many people have made new friends but also found old ones they lost contact with and even found family members,’ said Terry.
‘Above anything else, Dave’s pride was in knowing that it was a way that people who were isolated were able through the group to be in contact with other people and feel part of something and eventually gain confidence to start going out or posting on the group.’
Marc Maran created ‘Leigh Park Pictures and Memories’ 10 years ago, and it now has more than 9,000 members who discuss the area, events and share photos from across the years.
‘There are people who lived in Leigh Park 60 years ago who are now using online tools and they’re using my group to make friends in the area now,’ Marc told The News.
‘Years ago, making friends was at school or at work and you knew your local greengrocer.
‘I used to have pen friends in America years ago but now that would be an instant online chat.
‘I think people meet online now as wanting to be part of a community or a social group. ’
Marc, who used to work in community development, set up the group to share old pictures but it has evolved over the years to include members from across the world.
Often, people will recognise Marc at events or on the street because of his posts online, and he has made many friends through the group, some of whom he has never met in real life.
‘You can hide behind a keyboard and write what you like, it’s a safety net,’ said Marc.
‘But, there is a downside of fake friends and you get keyboard warriors and gossip warriors.’
Research by the Campaign to End Loneliness showed that more than half of UK adults feel is has been a long time since they made a new friend or valued connection, and 88% of people agree that small moments of connection can help to tackle loneliness.
Some groups which have started online have combined long-distance friendships with getting out and meeting people nearby after connecting online and making friends for life.
Mums Unite was set up by Gosport mum Tuesday McEwan after she suffered with anxiety and wanted a way to connect with other mums in the area.
It has grown to almost 1,700 members since May, many of whom regularly meet up at events coordinated through the Facebook group and engage in conversations with people up and down the country.
Tuesday said: ‘I’m a great believer that for a lot of people it’s easier [to meet online] because if you’re face-to-face with someone it can be awkward.
‘With the way the world is going, it’s almost becoming normality to meet people online.
‘It takes away all the worry of awkward silences and having nothing to talk about.’
When it comes to meeting people out and about, Tuesday thinks it’s not as easy as it once was, and people are becoming more reliant on social media and meeting people through groups like Mums Unite.
This, Tuesday said, is because a lot of people don’t want to be knocked back and it’s useful to learn people’s interests before you meet to have things to discuss.
‘I don’t think any of us realised how much there was a need for [the group],’ Tuesday told The News.
‘So many of these members say this is exactly what they needed. A lot of mums don’t want to go out but still want to interact, some of the members will never meet but they feel like they have made a friend for life.
‘Mums can end up being so lonely, it’s such an alienating feeling even though there are so many mums out there.’
Tuesday’s aim is to bring interactions into the real world so people can meet people but others who can’t get out and about can meet friends behind a screen which she thinks is ‘just as vital’.
Community centres show ‘people like the nostalgia’
MANY people are still turning to tried and tested methods of meeting people, with community centres across the area continuing to thrive.
Leigh Park Community Centre has been busier than ever in recent months after the successful launch of Park Play and the Heart of the Park café.
People from all different backgrounds and ages use the facilities at the centre, and the new schemes have encouraged a whole new group of people to join in.
Leah Moore, centre co-ordinator, has seen how it has changed over the past five years she has worked there.
Leah said: ‘There was desperately a need locally. The internet is really easy because it’s at your fingertips, I don’t know what it is but opening the play we could see just how much this works. It just seems busier and busier, there’s always people around.
‘I think it’s come back around because people like the nostalgia in things and as much as the internet took over our lives I think people like the idea of coffee afternoons and meeting for lunch and it’s come back around to community groups.’
A group of mums using Park Play first met when it opened in the summer and have been meeting up ever since according to Leah, becoming so close they were all invited to one mum’s hen party and wedding recently.
‘Leigh Park epitomises community, people are very proud to be part of this community,’ Leah said.
‘We want [the centre] to be the heart of the community. We’re trying to make everybody aware that there’s so much out there. It doesn’t matter where you live, we care about you.’