community building

Newcomer Welcome Clubs

Richard Lucas January 2022

Everywhere in the world, from the smallest village to the largest town needs one or more “Newcomer Welcome Clubs” (NWCs)  – which are both for recent arrivals and those who want to welcome them.

This blog post explains

why NWCs are an idea whose time has come,

what the key features of a local Newcomer Welcome Club are,

what you can do if you want to devote some time and energy to help make this happen in your area.

What are NWCs ? (there is a hint in the name)
While NWCs are obviously organisations whose purpose is to welcome newcomers, a club is more than this. It is both for newcomers and people who want to welcome them.  

The core of an NWC are regular events (once a week, bi-weekly, monthly) where the “event design” is newcomer friendly.

The structure of the regular meeting includes:

  • A welcoming process so that as someone arrives the host/volunteers focus on greeting people and introducing them to others in the room, rather than leaving them to their own devices. People left alone often retreat into their phones, and the first impression a newcomer gets is important.

introductions and icebreakers so that newcomers are put on a level with people who already know most of the other attendees. This addresses the intimidating atmosphere that can be felt if someone new walks into a room where everyone else seems to know each other.

  • regular rotations of the people you speak to, so even if you are trapped with someone you don’t particularly want to talk to it doesn’t last too long.

free form socialising so that after the structured part of the meeting people are free to mingle with the people they most want to meet.

  • Time limited community announcements so that people who have a project or idea they want to share have the opportunity to do so.
  • If people at the meeting have ideas/proposals of special activities or interest groups that they want to suggest as group activities they can, on the basis that they take a leading role in making their suggestion happen.

Gatherings have housekeeping rules and culture that are “shy people” friendly. Regular attendees are primed to look out for people who don’t know anyone, and include them in conversations.

Participants will be encouraged to self-regulate how long they speak for so that if anyone is talking too much, they are a violating the conventions of the gathering.  The “Rule of one minute”.

Why is this idea needed?

The places where communities have traditionally gathered (school, local bar, and church) have declined as the focus of community life in many societies and at the same time the world has become much more mobile, with more people on the move, arriving in places where they don’t have a local network and contacts. There are far more single person households than there used to be. At the same time digital technologies have provided a some sense of connection, often without depth and a commitment to mutual support. 
Many observers note that the number of people reporting that they are lonely and isolated is increasing. The proposition that it is a good thing if there is a club or place where newcomers are made to feel welcome is obviously true.

How did the idea come about ?

I came across the idea of NCW from Wendy Ellyatt who told me about her involvement in “Cheltenham Connect” many decades ago, and how it impacted the town she had moved to.  Wendy and I met through the Village in the City movement, founded by Mark McKergow, which has the wider and similar objective of forming village like communities in cities.

Some readers will be thinking: “surely this idea is not new?” and they will be correct. A few minutes on Google will reveal that there are groups that meet some or all of the functions of a NWC, often with a particular target in mind (new students in a University town, international/expats/couch-surfers in a major city,  women’s groups, scholars arriving at a university). The participants in and types of meeting vary wildly, some more professional like internations, others more focussed of eating, drinking, or partying, others like the Good Karma effect more focussed on mutual support.

Many such meetings lack the “newcomer friendly” event design described above. While some people who go to meet ups are self-confident and can manage without integration activities, we observe again and again the benefits of structure. I do not want to arrogantly say that my ideas are not being implemented well anywhere. I would like to network and collaborate with organisations that have similar goals and values.

A meeting without structure results in newcomers walking into a room where there is a wall of noise, and it’s both very challenging to meet many new people, and as and when you do, you end up spending longer than you want talking to the people you happen to speak to first.

By having structured icebreakers and integration activities we ensure that everyone who attends will meet quite a few new people in the first half of the gathering, and they can choose with whom they follow up in the second.

We say “If an event works for the shy and introverted, bold and confident people will manage just fine”

Following Priya Parker’s ideas in “the Art of Gathering”, we view the lack of rules as creating a power vacuum, in which the wrong type of person (dominant, bullying, arrogant, loud) tends to take over.

Just as a rules based culture or organisation protects the less powerful against the strong, so house keeeping rules and culture, create space for everyone

What have we done already?

In Krakow Poland, my adopted home, we set up the Krakow Newcomers Welcome Club and have had several successful meetings.

In Lisbon Poland where I arrived less than two months ago, we have had four meetups and they are gaining in popularity all the time.

Last week, the acclaimed speaker, author and podcaster Seth Godin gave me an Akimbo “community announcement” promoting my “idea worth spreading” – Listen to my advert (25 seconds in) here

of a global network of “Newcomer Welcome clubs”, working on the TED -> TEDx model, of a central organisation (me), supporting local leaders.

This blog post is the first port of call for people who write to me asking for more information.

I’m applying the “lean startup” methodology to this idea, of testing if there is supply and demand before building an organisation. This is similar to how I interact with startup founders looking for feedback and funding. I tell them “don’t show and tell me about your product and solution, tell me what the clients, users and beneficiaries of your idea have to say”.

We use pilot and launch events as team building exercises by having a volunteer recruitment process and form embedded in the event description.

We use a Facebook group here  Page here and Meetup here to get the word out.

If you want to start a NCW in your community, then get in touch.  Maybe fill in the Lisbon form or just drop me an email.