Running a Local Group

We do want to hear from people who are disabled or have experience with disability, in Britain and abroad, who would like to set up a local group. We do llke to get to know organisers first, to be sure that you will be accepting of all the physically and socially disabled people who join your group, volunteer to help run lunches and maybe workshop /discussions and write up your events and activities in our online Clubhouse. Volunteering tasks might entail

• publicising your group, both in local papers and amongst disability organisations, perhaps focusing on a disabled person who wants to join. All this can be done with our help
• supporting those who get in touch to join our Club
• finding a venue for lunches, seeking help to run them, preferably from eager members and setting dates and times. Two documents have been produced to guide you:

Running a lunch

• running your local group page in our Clubhouse.
• enjoying conference online communication with other group organisers to swap notes and learn.
• adhering to our guidelines :


Basic Guidelines for running a Lunch

1 Date – Best select a Saturday at 1.30 when other diners will be finished and you have an empty-ish venue. Continue till 5 or 6. Best to make it regular, once a month.

2 Choice of Venue Choose a venue which has the following qualities

a) staff with a good attitude to disabled people

b) wheelchair accessibility and an accessible toilet

c) parking beside it or nearby

d) near public transport

e) quietish – no football on telly or loud music, no noisy guests, not masses of children

f) choose a quiet district – eg the financial or business district of town where the weekday masses have gone, leaving plenty of eating places

f) reasonably priced and a wide selection of food and drinks. Don’t, for example, select and Indian or Mexican restaurant (unless you are in India or Mexico). Gastropubs are often ideal.

g) ideally, you need a spaceous alcove with a few tables in it – somewhere you will have a bit of privacy but still feel connected

h) don’t use a restaurant where they will bring one bill which you have to share, but where everybody places their own orders and pays for themselves.

i) don’t use a restaurant which needs to know numbers in advance because, however much you try to find out, many won’t show up and you will have unexpected arrivals

j) do ask your guests if they like it and listen to better suggestions.

3) Gathering a team around you It’s best if you have a team of three very reliable people, consisting of both genders, mixed abilities – physically and professionally. People who want to be the centre of attention or talk too much are not good. All should be accepting of disabled people, good listeners and socially outgoing.

I qualified in sex therapy in order to be able to support members with their sexual problems, which I have often done at lunches. Getting such a professional to join your team would be ideal, although I hear that they have many clients on a Saturday afternoon.

You all need to be able to suss people out and be prepared to reject them if they seem drunk, predatory or trouble makers. You can always ask the venue to throw them out or call the police to do so. Thankfully, we have hardly had any trouble in 35 years and I feel safer with Outsiders members than anyone. I never worry about leaving my purse lying around. Outsiders is covered by Public Liability Insurance.

You need to arrange with the team which one will be responsible for meeting shy and nervous newcomers at the entrance and bringing them over to the group. That person will need to put their contact details on publicity and give the newcomer their mobile phone number. NB it’s sometimes OK to meet members off the train etc but frustrating if they don’t turn up, so keep in contact by phone.

4) Publicity Together we can compose a press release to go out to local papers, disability groups and newsletters and TV and radio.

5) Coordinating with Outsiders Ensure we have details of everything you are doing as we don’t want Outsiders’ name be used for something unsuitable. Buy a beautiful A5 lined notebook in which your guests can sign their names and make comments. In London we have three columns: Name, area they live, and comments on the lunch. You can use that to write up the lunch and send us the details of it – with any problems you had.

4) Preparing the venue on the day turn up at least half an hour early to ensure everything is OK. Ensure wheelchair users will have at least a metre’s passageway to access all parts of your gathering and the accessible toilet. It’s best to have one large table (could be made of tables pushed together) for a big group to sit together and smaller tables and chairs. Move about a quarter of the chairs aside for wheelchair users.

5) Running the lunch Keep one eye on the door and don’t engage in long conversations with guests at the start of the afternoon as you need to greet new arrivals.

a) Introduce people to each other.

b) discourage small talk and ask guests personal questions like what sort of partner / ideal they are looking for. Introduce them accordingly.

c) ask them if they would like a group discussion. Ideally it would be great if all lunches in a month ran the same discussion topic and then reported the outcome in the Clubhouse. Most people at the London lunch join in discussions, enjoy and gain from them.

d) if someone arrives who has unusual methods of communication, it’s good if you make an announcement to everyone, explaining how to communicate with them. NB People with communication impairments such as hearing or speech, tend to be left out, even in disability groups such as ours.

The McKenzie Model

How to get a social lunch running successfully: some suggestions

  1. Be hyper-aware.

I think this is one of the key skills for a facilitator to use- to just be constantly vigilant on other peoples behalves, look for gaps to include them, look for successful combinations of people, successful open topics etc. If I hear one person mentioning they like France and I know someone else has just been on holiday then I will make sure they are introduced with this knowledge.

This is actually what I think makes the job of facilitator so exhausting (but so satisfying): I am pretty much on red alert all the time and am never fully focussed on one thing (even if I appear to be) as I am constantly monitoring the experience from the perspective of everyone at the table and doing anything I can to improve it.

Engage people who are looking awkward or even better – introduce them to someone else who is looking for a chat.

3 way conversations take the pressure off shy people but are not too large to be scary so ideally try and get 3 people engaged in a light conversation together.

2) Think of general topics that most people can relate to – food; where they come from; weather; news items (watch out for politics!); X Factor (I hate the show myself but when I realised that a whole section of our table watched it then I watched as shy members came forward with something to say!)

2a) I literally seize upon a topic that I hear coming up that might be a good general topic. If one person is talking to another about something general and I see a member sitting nearby but being ignored then I shoulder my way in and widen things out by including them and making it as general as it needs (and then I can dip out again once things are going well).

3) The ‘conversation starter’ strips can be left around the table for people to initiate using. However, in my experience most people are too shy/unsure to pick them up and use them so it might be needed that you are proactive in either starting them off in small groups or (if it’s a low number of people in the whole group) doing it en masse.

4) If you do use the conversation starters, some tips:

  • either use as small groups and get people to talk and really listen to each other. You could even ask them to feedback to the larger group some of their partners answers (just to check they were listening!)
  • use as a large group to keep things light and to generate laughs, and as a chance for people to get to know others and maybe realise things that they have in common.
  • To use as a large group you need a bit of organisation and to be proactive at organising it.
  • Get folk to be quiet
  • Ask someone to hand the envelope of questions to someone else to pick one.
  • Ask the picker to read it out
  • (if the picker struggles to communicate or is visually impaired then get them to pick a question and give it to someone else to read out…as with every aspect of the lunch I try and hand the tasks to group members as much as possible to engender a feeling of ownership and control amongst them)
  • go round the group giving your answers one by one
  • make it clear that people don’t have to answer and if someone is reluctant to answer/shy to speak in front of the group then move on immediately with a lack of fuss. I hate putting shy people on the spot and in my experience, some people still gain a lot from things by just being present but if they are shy the worst thing you can do is draw attention to them. Give them a chance to answer but move on immediately if they don’t seem keen.
  • in our experience this has really been fun. Many times we have spent so long on one question that we have hardly needed the rest! This is because its good that people chip in, mini-discussions get started, people agree or disagree etc.

5) Be a good listener

6) Be very welcoming to new attendees. Go the extra mile to seat them near sociable members who will engage them in conversation and if that fails then make sure you are sitting near them and engage them. You want them to come back!

New people attending may well be in quite a start of nervousness and anxiety so just try and be aware of this. They may not be up to being introduced to all the others at the table (it draws so much attention to them it might be quite daunting) and might prefer to just be introduced to one or two other people and settle there.

Always stress to new members that there are other new members and if possible introduce 2 new members to each other. Its important that people don’t feel they are entering a well-established clique. I hate being the only new person at a gathering and I always feel instantly relieved to hear that I am either not the only new person or that at least people are still getting to know each other.

6a) have basic logistics in place:

  • keep the day the same each month (or give lots of warning if changing it)
  • email everyone every month will full details
  • negotiate with the venue so that you can pay separately with the minimum of hassle. This is a big ask – we are lucky in having a super-helpful venue. However at the last lunch, 2 attendees asked if they could be the ‘go betweens’ between each member paying and the staff on the till. This was really helpful and again, created that sense of ownership we are encouraging.
  • have a contact phone number for the day (this got a lot of use)
  • be able to meet people outside the venue/at the station if possible. Or see if another member is keen and able to do this on occasion (encourages the sense of ownership we are developing

7) Make sure people get the chance to circulate – sitting at the table limits this so hopefully after people have eaten you can either relocate (to sofas, if you are lucky with your venue) or just be very proactive at asking the mobile people to move around and mix up the seating.

8) I have found that most people at the lunches do want to talk about their struggles with relationships BUT this is very hard to strike a sensitive balance on.

Having one large group discussion can be asking members to reveal a bit much in front of a large audience, so just be aware of this.

On the other hand, if conversations are not being started naturally then it might be time to bring out the ‘conversation starters: dating’ which covers all aspects of companionship, dating, relationships etc.

How to use the ‘conversation starters: dating’:

  • you really need focus and quiet for this as the questions are quite sensitive and people might be revealing personal information in their answers
  • if the whole group is not too large and people are happy together then you can do this as a large group
  • if not, then split the whole group into mini groups of maybe 4 people each.
  • In the case of one whole group: hand the envelope full of questions to a member to pick one out and read it (or pass it to someone else to read out if necessary)
  • These are questions such as ‘how do you escape a date if it doesn’t feel right?’. The questions are designed to never ask for personal experiences – they are asked in a general way so that people can answer without having to reveal too much about themselves. However, if they want to…then this is a great forum for opening up the topic
  • We have found that these questions often lead to people revealing their experiences. I have noticed this happening in a very gradual way, as people feel more and more safe and comfortable. Often one brave person brings in their own experience and others then feel safe to follow suit.
  • We have had some amazing times when people have slowly revealed their experiences and others have empathised, listened and supported. This is what its all about – when you don’t even have to give the support, but the other members step in with support and encouragement.
  • Keep going with the dating questions as long as people want to but again, each question can quite easily illicit a long discussion and that’s perfect. The object of the exercise is not to tick through a list of questions – but to instigate a conversation that touches on issues of importance to members.
  • If this is run in small groups:
    • Set up each group with instructions (just to pick a question, read it out and go round taking turns to answer but having as much discussion as needed)
    • Go between groups making sure everyone is being listened to, the conversation is flowing etc.

9) I guess my objective in each lunch is to absence myself as much as possible. This very much depends on who else is in attendance. Ideally the group will function as a sustainable group of people with lots to talk about.

However, it usually isn’t quite like this and that’s where you need one or two facilitators who are very socially sensitive, are able to be loud and sociable where needed but sensitive and organisational when needed.


I feel the most successful lunches are the ones where I can’t hear my own voice!

The more ownership we can create the better. Ideally members help each other, approach each other and feel that their ideas and suggestions are taken into account.

I have wondered to myself whether any one thing can account for the success of the Sheffield lunch.

I would hate to think that my presence is a big factor in the success of the lunch as I very much want it to continue running and blossoming.

10) I think a combination of variables have led to our success:

  • The demand being there – northern members were looking for this
  • Having a team of 2 running the lunch.
  • Lilian herself – she maintains phone contact with a lot of members between lunches whilst I take care of the emails and the communication with the venue (its important to get a good relationship with the staff there)
  • A great venue (its accessible, friendly, near the station,cheap and tasty)
  • There is a rollover affect from new members coming: each time someone new comes it gives the lunch a new impetus and gives members another reason to keep attending as they realise that they never know who might turn up. In this way, the success of the lunch feeds itself
  • And yes, myself and Lilian being a welcoming and friendly team (many of our members have commented that we work well together)
  • Lilian does tend to bring her friends who may not yet be Outsiders members but are interested in finding out more. She has been a very good source of new attendees (and already 3 of them want to join Outsiders as well)
  • I know that I have the skills to use when necessary – if the conversation is dying, if people are being left out, if the lunch needs to be a bit more fun and jokey or conversely if I think it would benefit from being a bit quieter and broaching more serious conversations
  1. Here follows some of my biggest quandaries as the facilitator and my conclusions gained from experience:
    • What I have noticed is that as the numbers increase most people can get their differing needs met. Initially I was solely trying to steer the conversation and the atmosphere to meet everybodys needs.
    • It goes without saying that this was barely possible – one particular incident was during our 3rd or 4th lunch when things got really comedic and everyone was really having a laugh and loosening up (some of this was due to the presence of 2 PA’s who were just very jokey). This was all going great until I sensed that some of the jokes were making 2 women a bit uncomfortable….and they never came back so I think my instinct was right
    • However, the jokes were not inappropriate and I feel that most of the group were really enjoying the jovial atmosphere and it massively refreshed us.
    • I had to conclude that I cant single-handedly keep everyone happy all of the time though I do feel sad if the jokey nature of the lunch deterred some people from coming back (although it has to be said that both of these women had autism and may just have not been able to relate to any of the double levels in the jokes and banter). However, if the group is big enough then people can create their own pockets of conversation and therefore it can become all things to all people.
    • When this incident occurred the group was still very small and there was really only one conversation going on at any one time, hence it being hard to meet everyone’ needs.
    • I also feel that this is similar when the conversation turns to dating, or more specifically sexuality.
    • What is so special about Outsiders is the way that sex is not banned from the agenda and people are treated like adults.
    • Sometimes at our lunch people have talked about things such as The Ball and there was talk about the sensory fashion show from the 30th anniversary. I think its really important that this forum is open and people feel able to share their thoughts on these issues.
    • However, I also am hyper-aware that this kind of stuff makes some people feel extremely uncomfortable and even anxious.
    • Again, there are no easy answers, as you want the lunch to be open to everyone and a free place for people to talk about things that are important to them.
    • As a facilitator the best I can do is either – try and start separate conversations between people who maybe look uncomfortable and would rather be exited from the topic.
    • Or just be part of the conversation and act as a ‘voice of reason’ pointing out that these are all valid lifestyle choices but not everyone is comfortable with them
    • I am most afraid that someone sitting into a conversation like that will feel terrified, intimidated and anxious. I was once part of this conversation (but with my eye on one member who looked quite uncomfortable) and I just let everyone say their piece but was sure to reinforce the fact that these are all choices and not everyone feels comfortable etc etc
    • I just didn’t want anyone to feel peer pressure into accepting things that make them feel uncomfortable.
    • On the other hand, I really wanted the conversation to continue as clearly members were sharing very important stuff and people had a lot to say. Again, ideally give anyone who feels uncomfortable a chance to exit and then everyone can talk about what they want.
  1. Having things to break it up a bit: once the food is eaten it can get a bit much to carry on sitting in the same place, talking to the same people
  • the conversation starters have really helped and can take the form of a game getting people up and moving
  • moving location – from table to sofas really gives a fresh feeling to the afternoon and helps people sit with different folk
  • I do try and be subtly instrumental in moving people to different places so that they talk to different people
  • We did a secret santa at Xmas (£1 limit) and it went down a storm! Doing something different really enlivened the whole group. We had crackers too which had a similar effect
  • However, on Halloween I had a bag full of gimmicks (silly skeleton straws, devil horns, furry spiders) but I really got a vibe that the group that day wasn’t up for it…so I kept them hidden!
  • Maybe introducing some sort of game after lunch
  • Quit while you are ahead. Don’t feel that the group must last until the allotted end time. If things have gone well and then you feel things flagging…its fine if people start to leave. It will leave them more energised for next time if they don’t reach the point of boredom.

Just get in touch with us and let’s get going!