Reach Out: The growing online group where rants are encouraged to let people get things off their chest

There's something uniquely comforting in meeting up with friendly people in a warm atmosphere for a brew and maybe even something sweet on the side.

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 7:00 am
Sarah Jane Foulkes (right) with Tracey Fitzpatrick

The fact, then, that the pandemic restricts people's abilities to actually get together and support one another at the very time when people are in need of that very same support is a cruel twist of fate. And for an East Lancastrian coffee group which formed just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic took pernicious root in the UK, it has necessitated some swift thinking.

Sarah Jane Foulkes started her Reach Out Facebook group around six months ago with the intention of bringing people together and preventing isolation and loneliness.

Unaware that isolation and loneliness were about to impact far more people than predicted as a result of the restrictions of movement put in place in order to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sarah has used the group to spread positive messages and welcome people into her budding community.

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Sarah (right) with Irene Lunney

"It's a long story, but when I was 21 I was diagnosed with bipolar I after having a breakdown and the idea for Reach Out just came to me," says Sarah, who is 42. "The motivation has been in me all these years, but it just brought it out and so, before the whole coronavirus started, I set up a coffee morning with help from the council and we managed to hold a couple before we unfortunately had to stop.

"We've got around 90 members now, which is brilliant," she adds. "We're one big community coming together, allowing people to have a rant and get things off their chest if they need because talking really helps, whether you've got mental health problems or you're just going through life day-to-day. And knowing others are listening helps, too."

Despite being founded as a coffee morning group which held firm aspirations of regular in-person meetings, the digital gathering provided on the Reach Out Facebook page has been a lifeline for many during lockdown with the group's membership growing steadily.

Run by Sarah with help from her friends Irene Lunney and Tracey Fitzpatrick, the group is open to people feeling isolated, those looking for a bit of peace away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, or those looking for a new and welcoming community of like-minded people.

Sarah and Tracey

"Taking everything online has been fine because we just wanted to provide a space where people can talk and make friends and communicate in order to get things out in the open," explains Sarah, who is from Nelson. "The group runs itself: it's everyone's safe space and knowing they're part of something bigger allows them to take ownership and make their own mark.

"Supporting any parents helps children as well," adds Sarah, who expressed her thanks to Audrey Drinkwater of Nelson Town Council for her help in getting the group off the ground. "They're the next generation, so if we can help their parents then we set a good example and show that keeping things bottled up inside never helps."

Enjoying the fact that the group is getting people talking - "a gentleman the other night opened up and was talking about losing his mum," says Sarah - the importance of community-based forums like Reach Out during lockdown can't be underestimated.

"We're all suffering in a way and we need to keep smiling and people need to be able to talk about things," says Sarah. "It really helps me personally. If everyone is happy and talking then it makes me happy and so I'm proud of the fact that we've brought this many people together; it may have taken six months, but we're here now.

"Talking helps."