On a quest for friendship (not romance)? Tori Attwood mingles at Girl Gang’s friendly function

“Have you been here before?” It’s that cringe-worthy question that usually makes me squirm. But, safe in the comfort that my new partner is definitely not hitting on me, I feel myself open up. I’m speed-mateing not dating, enjoying a ‘tinder for friends’ designed by Manchester’s resident Girl Gang. My partner isn’t going to plough me with alcohol to sway my decision-making, nor butter me up with tales of troublesome exes. This is a quest for friendship, not romance.

Bridging the awkward post-university social circle gap, the event caters to Manchester newbies or those who’s work life hasn’t offered an appetizing social counterpart. Activities inspired by speed dating, bad business mixers and agony aunts promise to make you mingle in hope of finding potential pals. As a Southern grad who relocated to Manchester for work, I know firsthand how hard it can be to meet people in a new city. So, I was keen to give it a whirl.

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Girl Gang Kirsty Morrisey

Upon arrival, circles of nattering friends were dominating the event space. But a quick show of hands relieved my nerves; most attendees had arrived alone and did not previously know each other. A short slideshow from bubbly hostesses revealed the rules, which were simple - whilst everyone you meet might not be your cup of tea, be open and respectful to all.  

Despite the faint whiff of nerves noticeable in the entry queue (which spilled out onto the street outside Texture), attendants mingle and mix with ease as soon as the activities commence. Ice-breakers encourage conversation with bingo-style cards requesting matches to random questions – find someone who can recite the Fresh Prince rap (guilty) or doesn’t use Facebook. A quick crowd warm-up divides the room into similar interests, from cat v dogs to verdicts on Marmite, before we broach the main speed-dating style activity. 

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Girl Gang Kirsty Morrisey

For those all-too familiar with the principles of speed dating, it would be understandable to expect awkwardly mismatched encounters that lead to little more than a forced conversation. But to m relief, speed-mateing offers genuine interactions. We laugh, chat and joke over everything from the guilty pleasures we’d hoard on a desert island – I’d happily starve with a Bieber album by my side - to how you’re really supposed to pronounce that devilishly divisive ‘scone’. Without the restriction of chairs, conversation flows and a carefully positioned slideshow offers ample prompts just in case it doesn’t. A soundtrack of belting divas blasts over the speakers to signal when it’s time to change partners, which adds a club-element to the mix alongside Texture’s atmospheric lighting. The effect is reminiscent of that ‘best mate’ scenario many of us have encountered in the club bathroom, friendship forged over outfit compliments and lipstick-sharing. Except this time, you’re not off your face and you might actually see each other again.      

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Whilst friends warned me that a female-heavy networking event might turn out ‘catty’, there was nothing but friendliness to be found amidst the waves of open-minded, intelligent women. The atmosphere was buzzing, fuelled by the excitement of trying something new and the energetic Girl Gang team. Positivity and acceptance was at the core of the activities, with a bit of silliness thrown in for good measure. One task invited partners to explain 5 things they like about themselves, another posed a debate on whether you would rather smell bad for the rest of your life or be forever plagued with a bad stench only you can smell.

Still, come crunch time I was nervous about asking for numbers. Typical dating dilemmas plagued my mind - Did they really think I was nice or were they just being polite? What if they didn’t respond to my friend request? Would they ghost me? But a few Facebook adds later and I was connected to my partners from the evening. Whether my matches and I meet again or not, Girl Gang’s speed mate-ing was a success. I connected with smart, funny, like-minded women and had a great night out. Now, it’s just up to me to secure a ‘mate date’.   

Follow Girl Gang on Facebook for updates on their next Speed Mate-ing event.

For more information on Girl Gang, visit their website.