A FAN group started in the bay area of Cardiff, Wales, in 2003. Some ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students were asked by their teacher if they practised their English with neighbours.
She realised then that they did not know how to meet local people. Some were lonely and isolated. Later she thought of starting a Fan Group Meeting which would be a one hour listening group – as a way for friends and neighbours to meet. The adult students were enthusiastic when asked if they’d like to meet people from the local community.
FAN stands for Friends and Neighbours. A FAN with a map of the world was chosen as a logo for the FAN Charity – because the founders dreamed of seeing Fan Groups across the UK and the world – one great international family – linking hands in friendship.
Some like the idea that FAN also means Friends Across Nations. Who is my friend? Who is my neighbour? Being a good friend and neighbour starts with each one of us. At a FAN meeting friends and neighbours come together to listen to each other and feel more hopeful for the world.
Caz who had worked for community policing helped Gill find the first venue and they set up the early meetings. The founder members were Azeb, Grace, Gulalai, Jen, Margo, Rashida, Sylvia and Qanal, who with Gill and Caz quickly ensured the growth and development of FAN. When the mixed groups for men and women started they were supported by Abid, Barrie, Bernard, Dave C, David D, Dave S, Gamal and Nazir. Since then numerous staunch and loyal attendees have helped to take The FAN Groups forward.
It became clear that there was a much larger need for these groups than had been realised. Local people and long term residents often longed to meet in friendship and reach across all cultural divides. Soon the groups were contacted by a variety of professional workers in community development. They asked about how to set up a FAN Group.
It was realised that in order to keep growing steadily, the groups would benefit from a simple but clearly stated set of written principles and guidelines. Importantly, The FAN Group meeting style allowed all attendees who wished to speak, to do so, in turn and without interruption. Listening without interrupting is an important factor in the success of FAN Groups and worth preserving. Conversation before and after the meetings is actively encouraged.
All individual groups are independent of The FAN Charity. Independent FAN Groups have regular weekly meetings which last an hour at most. The meetings give anyone in the community an opportunity to meet others in a spirit of friendship.
Now FAN Group meetings take place regularly at different venues throughout Cardiff and more are opening in other parts of Wales and the UK. There have already been many enquiries from the UK and abroad. This includes enquires from Italy, the Middle East, Pakistan, and the USA.
The FAN Charity has been cited as an example of good practice by Welsh Assembly members with a special interest in social cohesion and ABNI (The Advisory Board for Naturalisation and Integration). Meanwhile, a part-time development officer, Amy Cuff was appointed with the help of a grant from Oxfam, Cymru. She had the task of helping to put together our literature and to help us develop PR and make suggestions for improving this website. This is to help groups who wish to be established in new locations outside of the Welsh capital.
People have already found that The FAN Groups have helped them greatly. They feel more optimistic and know lots more interesting people. Some people attend 3 or 4 meetings a week! Through different FAN Group meetings they have often found others who can be very helpful – and who can give them information about the neighbourhood and suggest links which could be useful.
For more information on this grass-roots organisation have a look through this website, which is regularly updated with the latest news. Teachers and students of English can download from the website 4 FREE ‘Learn English with Stories’ books.
Anyone interested in starting a FAN Group in their area, in the UK or another country should visit the Start Your FAN page for more information.