The Circle is a program that brings four strangers together and gives them a reason to connect. Meeting up four times in total, each participant takes it in turns to host the other three and provide the group with a task to do. The program gives participants a hands-on way of meeting new people, with each get-together having a purpose behind it and a common goal to aim towards.
Organized by Luckan Integration, an NGO that provides support services to Swedish speakers and immigrants, The Circle is a new project that is being trialled in Helsinki and the rest of Finland. Lisa Tobiasson, project manager of the program, explained to the Helsinki Times: “It’s a great way to meet people with different backgrounds because you get to see how they really live. You are invited into their homes and you are cooking together or doing something together. We think there’s something a bit more genuine about that than just meeting up together in somewhere like a café.”
The Circle hasn’t been started for any one particular group, but instead Lisa hopes that a diverse range of people will participate. Although it is something that is likely to benefit immigrants and people that have recently moved to the country, Lisa explains that the practical nature of the program is also something that is likely to suit the typically shy Finn:
“I hope that it makes it easier for people to connect with each other. It’s not only focused on immigrants, or meetings between immigrants and natives. I think that many Finns would also like to be more socially active, but don’t know where to start. If you start talking to someone in a shop then you’re probably just crazy. So if you put up the right context of being social then it feels safe even for Finnish people. The work aspect, doing something at the same time, means that you don’t have the same pressure of trying to make conversation over a coffee table.”
While the group tasks are primarily there to give each get-together a communal framework, they also serve the purpose of helping participants to get all manner of jobs done. Jobs could include anything from washing windows to attic cleaning or zipper sewing. Hosts are encouraged to use their imagination and give the group a task that would be of use to them. As long as it’s something you wouldn’t mind being asked to do yourself, it’s probably fair game.
Having your own home is not a requirement, and circle members can also choose to host the rest of the group outdoors or in a public space. “If you don’t want to invite people into your home then you can go grocery shopping together, mushroom picking, whatever you want. Meetings don’t have to take place in someone’s home, but I think it gives the whole experience something extra”, says Lisa.
If you are interested in joining a circle then simply sign up at cirkeln.luckan.fi. You will receive an email once you’ve been assigned with a group and then you can decide if you want to proceed or not. Things like location and preferred languages are taken into account when groups are being formed. Participants may also have individual requests, such as being matched up with people in their own age group, although in specific cases it may take time for circles to be assembled.
Before the circle begins, groups are invited to the Luckan office in Helsinki to get to know each other a bit and discuss hopes and wishes. The Luckan crew will suggest a schedule and check in with the groups regularly, but participants are responsible for organizing their own get-togethers. Sessions last two to three hours each, and after everyone has had the chance to play host the circle is complete. At the end, participants will be given the option of starting again with the same members or joining a new circle if they wish.
The first group is scheduled to meet up in July, with two more following shortly afterwards. When asked about the appeal of this unique social project, Lisa tells the Helsinki Times: “It’s just four times that you have to commit to, so it’s not too much for anyone. Whether you click or not, at the end of the day you will be three people richer”.
Dan Anderson – HT