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Loneliness is a UK epidemic — here’s how we made friends as adults


It can be hard to make friends as an adult (Picture: Getty Images)

A new study has revealed an isolation epidemic throughout the UK, with 29% of the British population claiming they feel lonely often or some of the time.

The Belonging Forum polled 10,000 Brits from across demographics, finding young women aged 18 to 24, renters and those living with disabilities were least likely to report a strong support network.

More than a third of Londoners (35%) also reported regularly feeling lonely, which Belonging Forum founder Kim Samuel said highlighted ‘real issues’ with social connection in the capital.

Half of Brits find it difficult to make friends, and while we typically stop making friends around the age of 37, an overwhelming 72% of us would love to make new ones.

So in an effort to help combat loneliness and reduce the stigma of making pals later in life, Metro.co.uk has enlisted the expertise of the adults who have done just that – and their methods are easy for all of us to replicate.

Why not follow their lead and broaden your circle?

Sarah met new friends while running

Frances Braithwaite (45), Michelle Mackay (52) and Sarah Hamilton who all met through Parkrun for the NHS 70th birthday Parkrun celebrations (Picture: Sarah Hamilton)

When Sarah Hamilton moved to Cumbria in November 2012, she knew no one. Her husband is in the RAF so moving home wasn’t uncommon for the pair but Sarah found starting over made it ‘hard to find her people’.

Sarah tells Metro.co.uk: ‘As the serving person, my husband always had a brand new set of colleagues and social life but I had to go out and find mine – especially here where it’s a small RAF community.’

But in May 2013 Sarah, 48, decided to try parkrun, which she says gave her a community of her own and a great group of friends.

Sarah says: ‘I often say that we wouldn’t still be living here now if I hadn’t gone to parkrun. I registered in the January because I’d seen on Twitter that Carlisle Parkrun was launching but I didn’t go until May because I wasn’t brave enough.’

Join the country’s biggest running club (even if you’re a walker)

Joining parkrun is free – it doesn’t matter if you’re a keen runner, a jogger, a walker, a social stroller or are keen to volunteer and cheer from the sidelines.

Register for parkrun here.

Did we mention it’s free (tick) and you only need to do it once (tick tick).

The mum-of-one understands how hard it is to make friends as an adult and she certainly didn’t find it easy at first.

She says: ‘I was too nervous to speak to people at the start, so I was just watching what everybody was doing. During the run I thought “oh they’re really speedy, I don’t want to speak to them”.

‘But after the race you’re hanging around, especially when the weather is lovely, and you sit with a coffee and end up chatting. And that’s kind of when all that interaction happens – I’ve now made a whole friend group.’

Many of Sarah’s closest friends she’s met at parkrun don’t live in Carlisle – they were passing through, but they’ve kept in touch, meet up regularly and have lots in common. She also has a big community of friends locally through the fitness event.

They’ll go out for dinner and drinks together or catch up for activities like swimming and running followed by a trip to the pub.

Pictured left to right: Sarah Hamilton, Brian Hazlewood and Louisa Weeks who have been friends since meeting at Parkrun (picture: Sarah Hamilton)

But if parkrun seems daunting to you remember it isn’t just for experienced runners – you run, jog or walk it if you want to and some even bring their pushchairs to take round the circuit.

Sarah, a library assistant, says: ‘One of my friends had her second baby. So I walked with her and her mum the other day while she carried the baby round. Her husband was running while pushing their four-year-old in the buggy as well, so it’s literally for everybody.’

She adds: ‘I walk at parkrun now, my body’s just had enough of running. It’s great to be able to still feel like you can take part even though you can’t run anymore. We were laughing on Christmas Day, because our winter course is five laps, so when you’re at the back, you get lapped quite quickly by the quick runners.

Live your best life with Metro’s parkrun partnership

This year Metro has partnered with the iconic charity parkrun to bring you a thriving new content series.

In a coming together of two game-changing powerhouses, Metro has been chosen as the first official media partner for parkrun as it celebrates its 20th birthday in 2024.

It’s not just for the runners, though – it’s for everyone.

Come with us as we embark on a series of boundary-pushing wellbeing content designed to elevate and champion, but also to support mental health and societal cohesion. Whether you run, walk, jog or strut…

Read the stories of those who have found their calling, their community or had their lives changed through the simple act of lacing up their trainers (not that you have to do parkrun in trainers…as we’ll show you later on).

Get ready to be empowered, inspired, and energised!

Register for parkrun here. The best part is that it’s free and you only need to register once.

‘We weren’t even a third of the way round the first lap walking when the first guy came past – there’s no need to be that fast.’

Sarah’s tips for those who want to give it a go is to go and watch your local parkrun first to see what it’s like before giving it a go yourself – or you can even be a volunteer first.

She explains: ‘Volunteering first makes people say “oh, I can actually do this – it’s alright to just walk”. Parkrun has a designated walker whose job it is to be last, so you will never be last and they would walk with you if you wanted them to.’

Marian Kwei met her friend at church

Marian Kwei (right) with one of her best friends Zinze Bishop who she met at church (Picture: Marian Kwei)

Fashion expert Marian Kwei made a new bestfriend by attending a Seventh Day Adventists church and says it’s one of the friendliest places you can go.

The 42-year-old lived in Reading four years ago, then travelled to the church in Hackney for the first time where she met Zinze Bishop, whose son was four at the time.

Zinze sat next to Marian in the pews and noticed she was new, so she welcomed her to the church and apologised for her son fidgeting next to her.

Marian tells Metro.co.uk: ‘That’s actually how we started talking. She’s very friendly, lovely and very sweet and very warm – whenever there’s anyone new, she will make sure they are okay.

‘She told me the church hosts a lunch open to visitors so they have food where members can sit down and chat – it’s like a potluck.’

But Marian had to dash home after the service and the two didn’t exchange details. Two years passed before Marian returned to that church, because she had found one closer to home, but after moving to Canary Wharf in May 2022 she returned to that very church where she met Zinze again.

Marian says: ‘When I got to the church Zinze was arriving at the same time as me. I didn’t recognise her at first but she recognised me. She said “you came in and sat next to me and my son”. I remembered her then and we exchanged numbers.’

They then became fast friends and now Marian gives Zinze fashion advice and they go shopping together.

‘We do everything together,’ Marian says. ‘We shop together and on my birthday on November 14 Zinze treated me to cake and coffee. We pray together and talk about mental health because Zinze is a counsellor.

‘She even helped me move house – we do everything from the mundane bits of life to the fun things.’

Nicola met her friends dog walking

Natalie (left) with her dog Chester and Nicola (right) with her dogs Mabel and Bertie who are uncle and niece (Picture: Nicola Wandsworth)

For those of us that have dogs, Nicola Wandsworth believes that owning a dog makes it 10 times easier to make friends because you automatically have something in common.

The 50-year-old lives in Minnis Bay on the north Kent coast with her two dogs, Bertie, four, and Mabel, nine months, both of which are Tibetan terriers. She even owns her own dog shampoo brand, Pup Suds.

It’s through walking her dogs on the beach that she met her best friend Natalie McGee. Nicola tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Natalie was the first person that I let Bertie off the lead with to play with her dog.

‘I said “do you mind if I let my dog play with your dog?” And she said absolutely. We got chatting and have been firm friends ever since.’

They now meet up for dog play dates where Natalie is often ‘killing herself laughing’ because Nicola’s dog is so naughty, while Natalie’s Labradoodle Chester is well-behaved. They also have ‘non-puppy’ evenings too. She says: ‘We meet up for drinks and we’ll go for lunch. There’s now a little group of us – we’re called the ladies of the bay.’

Nicola’s best friend Natalie with her puppy Mabel during one of their socialising sessions at the pub (Picture: Nicola Wandsworth)

When Nicola meets someone on a dog walk she gets along with she will add them to a Whatsapp group of all her dog walker friends so they can meet up.

She explains: ‘In Minnis Bay if you don’t stop and have a half hour conversation with passersby on walks you’re considered weird. You literally can’t go anywhere with your dog without making friends down here. It’s just so lovely.

‘If you have a dog it seems to give people a reason to approach you, which I think is really sweet. Asking if you can stroke someone’s dog can be a great icebreaker.’

Nicola also suggests puppy classes with your dog as a good way to make friends. ‘You’re all going through the same trials and tribulations of new puppy ownership,’ she explains.

Nicola’s dogs Mabel (left) and Bertie (right) smiling on the beach (Picture: Nicola Wandsworth)

‘You all have a puppy that is literally trashing your home. You can ask “is your dog doing this?” or “what do you recommend for this?”.’

Nicola now has weekly meet ups with her friends from these groups to socialise their dogs and drink gin together.

She adds: ‘Now I just need my dog to meet another dog on the beach with a gorgeous man in tow, like 101 Dalmatians – then I’ll have it made.’

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