A NEW group aimed at combating loneliness among young people is going from strength to strength, just weeks after its formation.
‘Sunrise Social North Coast’ takes its inspiration from a similar community initiative begun in Australia by a county Down woman, Caroline McKenna.
The idea is a simple one: members of the group arrange to meet at an agreed location somewhere on the north coast each Saturday to watch the sun come up.
And while there are a number of volunteers on hand to coordinate things, the beauty of the Sunrise project is that anyone is welcome to come along and hopefully make new friends.
Ironically, it was an aborted trip to Australia by Ballymoney software consultant Chloe Mullan that led to the local group’s formation.
The 24-year-old never made it ‘down under’ because of the global pandemic and never got to experience a Sydney sunrise social so she simply decided to start one at home on the north coast.
“I was always watching the Sydney events and sunrise socials through Caroline's Instagram page and I couldn’t wait to attend one when I finally got out there!” says Chloe.
“That is what inspired me to begin one right here on our stunning north coast. We are home to some of the most beautiful sunrises and beaches in the world so I decided to stop being jealous of everyone going to these events in Sydney and set it up right here on our very own doorstep!”
Quickly named ‘Sunrise Social North Coast,’ the group now boasts 17 volunteers who have all played a part in getting the idea off the ground.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people and there is no way I would have been able to do it without them,” continues Chloe.
“In four short weeks we have gone from being complete strangers to great friends which shows exactly what the community we are trying to build is about. We all have similar interests and the same outlook when it comes to our events.
“We know a lot of people have had a very hard and lonely year in 2020 and we feel that this group will allow for those to not feel isolated anymore.
“Now that things are starting to get back to normal, we want to offer a safe place for people to come, socialise and make friends.
“Once you leave school or university it can be difficult to find ways to make new friends, especially if you are not involved in sport groups or clubs so we wanted to close this gap.”
One of those who knows how difficult it can be to form friendships in a new environment is Megan McWilliams, a Technology & Design Teacher from Coleraine.
“I know first-hand what it’s like living away from home, having spent two years teaching in London and the challenges that you can face,” explained the 26-year-old.
“It can be extremely difficult to meet new people and I believe that this group is exactly what we need in our local community.
“Sunrise Social North Coast is something positive to look forward to each week and is great for our mental health and well being.
“What we are doing is inviting people along to watch the sunrise with us on a Saturday morning from a different location each week along North Coast.
“We play some chill music and our team members walk around those that have come along and get chatting to them to make them feel welcome.
“People can come to our events with friends, family or they can come alone, but we can assure them that they will not be by themselves for long,” she adds.
The first event took place at Portstewart Strand at the end of May with the next one taking place at White Rocks beach this Saturday morning.
The plan is to meet at 4.45am to watch the sunrise together before going over to Bean at the Beach for a much-needed coffee!
“Everyone is welcome to join us,” adds Megan.
“We are always hoping for good weather but if it is not on our side, people are advised to bring a coat or umbrella as well as a hot water bottle, gloves and their own hot drink to tide them over until they reach the local coffee shop.
“We also suggest bringing a blanket to sit on at the beach while watching the sunrise.”
Anyone interested in the workings of Sunrise Social North Coast is asked to check social media for all the latest news.