Illustrative gif of a woman on stage holding a microphone

Illustrations By Marley Allen-Ash

Don’t start a book club: social groups can be about anything

Think beyond books to start a club that excites you. Here’s how to get started

When writer Sobia Hussain first heard of the Toronto chapter of the Muslim Writers Collective open mic, she thought it sounded interesting. Maybe a little daunting too. As an entrepreneur and freelance writer, Hussain had always felt comfortable expressing herself through the written word, but public speaking was a different story.

However, as soon as she arrived, she felt comfortable and safe. She took the stage that evening, opening up to an audience of strangers, and was immediately hooked.

Illustration of a woman standing and holding a microphone

The Muslim Writers Collective gives young creatives a space to freely express themselves through performance, singing, storytelling or poetry. For Hussain, it’s become a “third space.”

“We’re all Muslims coming together to share our communal experiences,” she says. “No one is trying to solve our problems or give an answer. Everyone is just listening. It’s almost therapeutic, like a support group.”

They’re not afraid of difficult discussions either. Young members will go onstage and talk about struggles with immigrant parents while living in North America, women’s rights or drinking.

It’s this vulnerability and willingness to have hard conversations that makes this group so special, says Razeem Nauth-Ali, a Toronto-based rapper-songwriter who was in the audience on Hussain’s first visit to the group. The two have since become close friends; Hussain is now helping Nauth-Ali host a live performance and film a music video.

As kids, many of us made friends so easily. But in adulthood, making social connections can be tougher. Research suggests that one in three Canadians do not report a strong, or very strong, sense of belonging to their local community. For many, social isolation can lead to a host of mental and physical health concerns.

Clubs are a great way to share experiences and form new bonds. If the standard book club’s not your thing, look to other hobbies and interests to find a group that excites you. Or why not launch your own? Here are a few tips to get started.

Illustration of a group of people sitting in a circle

1. Figure out your membership
Outline what your club’s mission and objectives are. Are you open to anybody who is interested? If your club’s activities often involve alcohol, be clear that members must be above 19, for example. For groups that might pose a risk, like a rock climbing club or a hiking club, should there be a training session or criteria that potential members must meet. Keep in mind that people may have different levels of experience.

2. Find the perfect venue
The place can completely set the mood for your club. Whether it’s a community centre, a bar or a communal party room in your building, make sure it’s a place you can consistently meet and gives off the right vibes. Hussain says the first time she attended the Muslim Writers’ Collective, she immediately felt comfortable at the venue, Majlis Art Garden.

“It was in an outdoor space set up with cute little patio lights. It felt very natural and not done up all fancy. It felt like a non-judgmental space where [you] can express yourself,” she says.

Nauth-Ali says that, as an artist, he understands the importance of creating the right ambience. “The goal is to have an environment where people don’t want to leave. You want to make people want to stay together.”

3. Have a funding plan
Whether you need to cover expenses like food, meeting room and venue fees, booking equipment or other associated costs, it’s important to have a source of income to keep the club sustainable. Fundraisers can be a source of income, or you can opt for one-time membership costs. If your club is more casual and operates on a drop-in basis, consider a pay-what-you-can model, or a standard door charge or online tickets for each event. You could offer free attendance to those with lower incomes to make your group accessible.

4. Have a way to communicate with your members
Word of mouth is effective, but it can only get you so far, especially when it comes to the finer details. Create a quick and handy way to contact existing members and get your message out to new potential members. One option is a website that lists your club’s mandate and more importantly, the location, dates and times of upcoming events. If you start a Twitter, Instagram or Facebook page, remember to keep inboxes open in case anyone has questions.


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