We’re more “connected” than ever before, but we’re also more alone. Loneliness and a sense of isolation are just two by-products of living in an age where we’re more likely to be staring at our phones than smiling at each other on the street, or listening to music than talking to people on the bus.

Other barriers to treating others with empathy and understanding include:

  • Feeling we have our own lives to lead, and empathising with others is hard when we’re stuck in our own heads.
  • Feeling we don’t know how others will respond if we actually do something so outlandish as saying, “Hi” or asking “How are you? No really, how are you?” (It’s also not terribly British.)

Yet the sense of ‘apartness’ this creates can be hugely detrimental to individual as well as collective wellbeing. One only has to look at the recent rise in divisive rhetoric in politics to see the hugely negative impact of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.

Tea With Strangers (TWS)

Tea With Strangers (TWS) is a community initiative that seeks to make cities feel like neighbourhoods by breaking down barriers between strangers and bringing people together to share stories, ideas and perspectives. We believe that everyone is interesting and has something of value to share. TWS was started in America by Ankit Shah, and has since spread to other locations.

TWS London

TWS London started in July 2015 and since this time we’ve connected hundreds of people over many hundreds of hours of tea! We have an awesome team of hosts that is growing all the time. Each host brings together five complete strangers for two hours of conversation over tea in various community venues across London. The hosts themselves also meet on a monthly basis to discuss the running of TWS and get up to mischief. We’ve become a close group of friends, especially after bonding during a camping trip over the summer.

1 Day Without Us

We’ve also held some very special events to date. In summer 2016, we held a picnic in Highbury Fields and welcomed anyone and everyone to join us to celebrate our first anniversary with food, tea and conversation. We ended up meeting people from all over the world (and the park!) and forming new relationships. In 2017, rain forced us to relocate indoors but we had another big celebration of TWS and what it stands for. Again, incredible connections were made and forged, and we recruited even more hosts into our team.

On 20th February 2017, we held two rounds of tea to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK as part of 1 Day Without Us. We partnered with the wonderful folks at Canvas Café to spread a message of unity, welcoming people of all different backgrounds, beliefs and views to share their stories. We also raised almost £200 for Chaigaram, a socially responsible business focussed on rebuilding refugee lives by creating employment opportunities to sell specialist Indian tea in the UK. It was a fantastic evening and we were thrilled to have a full-house.

Update in 2018: Shortly we will be turning 3 and it is truly mind-blowing to reflect on the journey thus far and some of the effects TWS has had. As just a small example, I will be heading to India to celebrate with one of my good friends who I first met as a tea attendee and who later joined the host community. It is amazing what can come from a couple of hours over tea!

Moving forward

Using conversation (and tea!) we will continue to promote understanding of the “strangers” around us with the hope that if more people can share that experience, we might start seeing the objects between us and the rest of our lives as, well, real people. And that makes the space we share feel a lot more like home.

We’re not doing anything ground-breaking. We’re creating something that would’ve been incredibly unnecessary 20 years ago. But while we get busier, it’s easy to forget the value of a conversation for no reason. A conversation that’s intentionally unintentional. All we want to do is bring people together because, well, the world is better that way.

It starts with a conversation.

Find out more and stay in touch

To get involved with TWS London, you can sign up and join for tea! You can also the TWS London Facebook to stay updated.