Favorite groups/volunteering opportunities/events venues in London?
August 19, 2010 3:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American moving to London soon. Because I don't know anyone there, I'm going to try to join some groups, take classes, and volunteer to meet people and generally just get out of my house. Of course, finding available classes and volunteering opportunities is easy, but it's considerably harder to figure out which ones are actually likely to be worthwhile. What groups, volunteer organizations, classes, and events venues have you had the best experiences with?

I'm up for basically anything, except for sports. Particularly inclined toward music, film, screenwriting, books, art, hiking, learning to make stuff, web geekery of all kinds, lefty politics, and environmental causes.

I lived in London for a year before this (several years ago), so I already know about the really obvious stuff: art galleries, LSE events, TimeOut London, NME, the major theatres' email lists.

Examples of the sort of stuff I'm looking for: If someone were asking this question about Brooklyn, I'd mention:

- Brooklyn Brainery (free/cheap crowdsourced classes)

- Housing Works (venue for literary readings/other awesome stuff)

- 826 (volunteering to help kids read)
posted by hazelshade to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard good things about Make Lounge, and if you knit, Stitch London have regular meets, some of which offer teaching.
posted by mippy at 4:01 AM on August 19, 2010

Best answer: I signed up for Couchsurfing a month or so ago (abroad, but not in London), joined a few local groups, recently proposed a meetup for coffee/drinks/whatever because I was new in town and wanted to meet some people, and had *3* messages back in less than two hours.
posted by mdonley at 5:14 AM on August 19, 2010

If you fancy a bit of medieval re-enactment, I can heartily recommend looking into the SCA. The London group, known as the Shire of Thamesreach, are very welcoming and will soon have you making all manner of stuff.
posted by Nick Jordan at 5:16 AM on August 19, 2010

The British Red Cross (and similar charities) recruit and train volunteer emergency responders and other roles. I'm in training and find an incredible diversity in the types of people there. It's good work, you get good skills, and work with the types of people you might never meet otherwise -- think posh old ladies chilling in the volunteer break room with cockney ambulance drivers and Columbian language students. The downside is, it does require some commitment, and they're looking for volunteers who will stay available at least through the Olympics.
posted by tavegyl at 5:30 AM on August 19, 2010

The Saturday Walkers Club will introduce you to the glory of country pub walks.. I've only managed to make one of the 'official' meets but it was really nice.
posted by Erasmouse at 6:41 AM on August 19, 2010

I went along to the London Hackspace this week and had a great time. If you're interested in making stuff, they might be worth a look. They seem to have a strong bias toward electronics and coding, but like most crowds of friendly geeks I'm sure they'd be thrilled to learn some new stuff from you.

London has several good juggling and circus clubs, if you're interested in those. I don;t have time to hunt out all of their information right now, but they're listed on the IJDb or you can call in to Oddballs and talk to whoever's behind the counter - they're all knowledgeable and friendly. (Or you can memail me - less knowledgeable, still friendly!) If you want formal lessons in circus arts, have a look at Circus Space - not cheap but I've only ever heard great things about them.
posted by metaBugs at 6:46 AM on August 19, 2010

Best answer: The pub. Seriously, pubs are social glue there. In my experience they were so much more like community centers than US ones. I loved that you could pop in any time of day and find a smattering of familiars. You didn't have to go with someone, you didn't have to drink, there might be kids or dogs, normal people old and young might just meet there for a chat, maybe you just want a bite or a coffee, you could just stay for a bit and then head on your way, etc.. US bars seem so much more like destinations, where you round up a group and block off an evening and go with the purpose of getting liquored up. My experience was in a university town, so London may differ, but the pub was the place to be and a great way to become a known face in the neighborhood and to meet lots of different people.
posted by Askr at 7:24 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Askr: I've always found pubs to be the opposite. A place you go with friends in the UK, a place you meet people in the US. Especially in London.
posted by wingless_angel at 7:34 AM on August 19, 2010

I'd second that. As an adopted Londoner, I'm not overly keen on talking to perfect strangers when I'm out with someone else.

And pubs where people tend to go in and drink alone... in my experience there is often a reason why they're drinking alone.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:39 AM on August 19, 2010

I'm in the same boat as you, basically - I'm starting grad school in London next month, and won't know anyone there except for my boyfriend & his family. I knit, so I'm planning on attending knit nights at the local yarn stores (iKnit seems like it will be a fun one; the store has a license to sell wine & beer!). Knitting groups brought me a fair amount of good friends in the last new city I moved to, though YMMV - for myself, knitting is an obsession.
posted by Gordafarin at 8:18 AM on August 19, 2010

I have to second Couchsurfing strongly. It's great for traveling, meeting people you can see when you travel, and even better, finding like-minded people in your own (new) area.

Demographics lean towards 20s/30s, open-minded, social, creatures. Definitely large sub-groups of which like going to pubs and clubs, others that want partners for outdoor activities, a bunch into arty stuff, etc. But even if none of this is you, there will be someone on CS you'll enjoy hanging out with.
posted by whatzit at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you like courses City Lit is a good starting point with massive range and quite good value for money. I'd second Make Lounge though.
I've also done a few things here (London!) through Meetup - photography based mainly, but enjoyed them all
If you just want to get out and meet people you could try something like citysocialising
For volunteering opportunities try timebank
And this organisation specifically focuses on conservation volunteering - I know people who have worked through them and enjoyed it
posted by smudge at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Completely ignore the last link - it's wasn't the organisation I was thinking off at all!!
posted by smudge at 12:18 PM on August 19, 2010

A few people mentioned knitting groups; as an American who spent a few months in London and tried 3 of the knitting groups, I found the members less than friendly, though the meetup group was friendlier than the iKnit one. YMMV, but don't feel rejected if you sit down at one and no one talks to you right away. It's a different culture than the U.S. And I also found that saying "Hi, I'm [name] is just not done there. None of which should take away from you trying groups, or having a great time in London.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:33 PM on August 19, 2010

If you're up for dancing, I would totally recommend Scottish Country Dance through the RSCDS. They have dances everywhere in London, and I really have never run into a Scottish Country Dance group that didn't have a critical mass of totally friendly people. I went to a ball dance there out of the blue when I went to London the last time, and I had a great time and everyone was extremely generous and welcoming.

However, the age group tends to skew a little older, with many participants being couples with teenager+ children. There are some younger dancers, but they're definitely far from the majority. It also costs money to participate (looks like £65 for a 10-week beginner's class). There are probably more dances than the website reveals, but you'd probably learn more about that if you took a class.

It's really awesome, and there are groups everywhere, so when you move next to Spain or Texas or Japan you'll be able to find a new group right away!
posted by that girl at 5:56 PM on August 19, 2010

Best answer: You could ignore smudge's suggestion to ignore BTCV, they are a great conservation organisation, and although I've not been on any tasks with them in London, I know they are very active across the city. There's loads of other conservation volunteer and community gardens and similar organisations as well that you can get involved with, if that's your thing. Your local council will have a list of local environmental organisations on their web page somewhere, start there and follow the links.

For other ways to find volunteering opportunities, try do-it.org and the volunteering section of Gumtree
posted by Helga-woo at 2:13 AM on August 20, 2010

Response by poster: These are all great - thanks everyone.
posted by hazelshade at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2010

The School of Life in Bloomsbury sometimes has interesting stuff and you meet all kinds of people.
posted by milkrate at 11:25 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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