The Social Group - Press / Radio / TV / Media
THE SOCIAL GROUP has been featured many times by television, radio, magazines, and newspapers.
We are always happy to do interviews and welcome being featured by journalists and presenters looking for stories on a variety of subjects - including The Social Group, how we came up with the name "social", the history of social networking, overcoming loneliness, meeting people, making friends, body language, leisure activities, dining out, restaurants, hosting parties, enjoying life, second chances, turning your life around, marriage second time around, trying new things, outdoor activities, adventure sports, skiing, horse riding, snorkeling, Twitter, social media marketing, small business, entrepreneurs, social enterprise, ethical business, group holidays, travel, Crete, Las Vegas, USA, cruise holidays, editing and magazine, writing, and a host of other subjects...
THE SOCIAL GROUP ON THE TELLY
The Social Group previously appeared on ITV's regional news programme, with Director Cathy Haglington and several of the members interviewed at a Social Group dining out event in Okehampton, Devon. Many thanks to everyone at ITV for featuring us!
THE SOCIAL GROUP ON THE RADIO
The Social Group has been featured on numerous radio stations, including BBC Devon, BBC Somerset, BBC Bristol, Pirate FM, Plymouth Sound, Apple FM Taunton, Hospital Radio Plymouth, and many more.
Here's photos of Andrew & Cathy in the studios at a few of them...
BBC Devon Reporter Julie Fisher & Social Group Director Cathy Haglington.
BBC Bristol Presenter Alex Lewis & Social Group Director Andrew Haglington.
BBC Bristol Presenter Alex Lewis & Social Group Director Cathy Haglington.
BBC Somerset Presenters with Social Group Director Cathy Haglington.
Taunton's Apple FM presenter Lizzie with Social Group Director Andrew.
Social Group Director Andrew Haglington invited to do Desert Island Discs on Hospital Radio Plymouth.
Social Group Director Cathy Haglington with presenter Ian Shannon on Hospital Radio Plymouth.
Directors of THE SOCIAL GROUP Andrew Haglington & Cathy Haglington also appeared on presenter GRAHAM TORRINGTON'S radio show on BBC local radio across the whole of the South West - BBC Cornwall, BBC Devon, BBC Somerset, and BBC Bristol. The discussion was about relationships, being single, where to meet people, how to make friends, and what The Social Group offers as the top socialising organisation in the region. A big thanks for BBC radio presenter Graham Torrington for inviting us on his show.
Andrew who has a degree in Environmental Studies & Geopgraphy, and is an expert in environmental matters, has also been interviewed by the BBC relating to the Somerset Tsunami and the Icelandic volcano eruptions.
THE SOCIAL GROUP IN MAGAZINES
Directors of THE SOCIAL GROUP Andrew Haglington & Cathy Haglington were previously featured by glossy magazines Cornwall Life, Devon Life, and Somerset Life. Many thanks to everyone at the magazines for featuring us.
This was the feature on Devon Social Group in Devon Life Magazine ...
GET A (SOCIAL) LIFE
If it doesn't already have a motto, then it probably ought to. Something like Ex laboris ad prosperitas ought to do it, if that goes anywhere near describing the astonishing success of the Devon Social Group if it's even grammatical Latin, come to that. It's certainly not for want of effort on behalf of the organisers that hundreds of people throughout Devon have found the means to interact with others in a meaningful way when they might have thought that their social circle was spiralling into non-existence.
Modern lifestyles are not always as enticing as they might seem to anyone on the outside. Divorce, early bereavement, pressures of work, higher social mobility, illness can all take their toll on social interaction and the ability to put down long-lasting roots. Chronic illness, particularly, has a way of reducing personal contact severely and, coupled with divorce as a consequence (as happened in Andrew Haglington's case), friendships are halved and halved again at one fell swoop. A skiing professional, writer and artist, at one time Andrew was a highly active individual until a skiing accident resulted in his contracting a very severe form of ME, which left him confined to a wheelchair for five years and in the care of Social Services. The condition put such a strain on his marital situation that he and his wife divorced.
For Andrew, life couldn't have got much worse: he couldn't ski, couldn't run, walk or even stand up for long and certainly couldn't go out and enjoy himself, even if he had someone with whom to do it. For many people that would have spelt the end, but Andrew was made of sterner stuff. It there was anything he did know, it was that people in his sort of situation, through no fault of their own, needed the impetus and the wherewithal to meet up with people in a similar situation.
On the rare occasions that he did go out, the more he talked to people he met, the more Andrew realised that he was not alone. Many people out there were just not getting together and enjoying themselves with the good company of others. They seemed to have lost the skills to interact with others and found it difficult to make new friends. For some, their jobs involved sitting in front of a computer all day, or working very much by themselves, with little personal interaction with anyone. Others were new to the area, knowing nobody and finding it hard to get started and make some friends. Yet others, like him, had been through divorce or separation. Some were bereaved and left suddenly alone. And others were just at a loose end, with little to fill their lives except a daily grind of work, television and sleep.
The more Andrew looked into the problem, the worse he realised it was. Modern society seemed to offer relatively few opportunities for people to mix. Increasing numbers of single people were very lonely, and there were even couples finding it hard to mingle. But there were nice people out there. What was needed was some way of gettiing them all together. So, in 1997, Andrew set up the Devon Social Group - a private subscription 'club' that was able to put people in touch with others of like mind (not a dating club, as such although liasons and even marriages have certainly resulted over the years), and to organise a range of events which the members could attend to meet one another.
From small beginnings, Devon Social Group has grown into something quite special, with many hundreds of members from all walks of life. So large has the organisation become that events programmes have had to be split into two distinct divisions covering the north and south of the county. As well as dinner-dances, restuarant meals, nightclubs, talks, quizzes, outdoor activities, treasure hunts and the like, the group has started to organise holidays abroad and, indeed, is just setting up a formal travel company to handle that side of things, starting with a trip to Egypt at the end of last year. It was one one of those organised holidays to Las Vegas, that Andrew Haglington found his own happiness once more, when he proposed to his present wife, Catherine, and within the week they were married, in a helicopter, hovering over Las Vegas strip at night. There couldn't be a much better endorsement of the worth of the group than that, although most members join simply for the company of others rather than any romantic motivation. Over the last decade, the group's efforts have resulted in thousands of people finding friends and enjoying a good social life. Many of them have found romance, many have got married, and some have had children. It's quite a thought.
To celebrate ten years of Devon Social Group, 2007 has been planned as a special year of events, with some very special themed balls and party nights. It is the most ambitious programme of events yet, including a fun 1920s dinner party, an easy going BBQ and disco at Paignton Zoo, the New York-style Singles Speed Dating (which Andrew and Catherine actually brought to the UK), a stylish VIP dinner and limo tour, a '70s and '80s themed dinner-dance, a thrilling murder mystery dinner party, a glamerous Venetian Masked Ball, a fancy dress Hallowe'en party, and lots of Christmas and New Year events. There will also be the usual dining out, nightlife, cinema, theatre, and all manner of different sorts of get-togethers such as bowling, skittles, microlight flights, golf, table tennis, abseiling, archery, clay shooting, go-karting, horse riding, scuba diving, paintball, falconry, quad biking and various walks. This, and indeed the whole successful ten-year programme, has brought a whole new meaning to the lives of previously lonely people.
THE SOCIAL GROUP IN THE PAPERS
This photo was taken of Andrew & Cathy by the Plymouth Herald's photographer to accompany a feature on us...
This was taken for a press release at Knightor Restaurant near St Austell in Cornwall, with Social Group Directors Andrew & Cathy Haglington meeting Live Aid Singer Paul Young...
This was a feature on us in Exeter's Express & Echo newspaper...
Directors of THE SOCIAL GROUP Andrew Haglington & Cathy Haglington were interviewed by Martin Freeman about the origins of social networking here in England. The feature was published in The Herald in Plymouth, online in Exeter for The Express & Echo, and was published in The Western Morning News across the South West. A big thanks to Martin Freeman for writing some of our story.
More on this below...
ENGLAND – THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE SOCIAL NETWORK
The Social Group began 7 years before Facebook and 10 years before Twitter. You may be surprised to know it began not in America, but right here in England.
Celebrating the romance of St Valentines and the search for love, newspaper features writer MARTIN FREEMAN talks to Englishman ANDREW HAGLINGTON, who found love when he created the world’s first social network and invented social networking…
Spot the odd one out: Bill Gates, Andrew Haglington, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Oh, you guessed.
Andrew’s fame and wealth don’t compete, respectively, with the founder of Microsoft or the man behind Facebook.
But had things turned out a little differently, Andrew Haglington, not Mark Zuckerberg, might have been the one this month sitting on a business worth £60 billion.
Flashback to 1997 and Andrew, orgiginally from Sheffield, now living in Devon, has identified the need in society for a friendship / connecting mechanism and invented social networking. He sets up a basic website through which people meet just for fun using their own names – revolutionary compared with the forums of the time that mainly uses pseudonyms. They can leave messages for each other and add photos.
He is years ahead of Facebook – the global giant did not accept members outside Harvard University, where it was founded, until 2006. It sounds an unlikely tale, but the British Library is convinced.
“The British Library asked permission to save our initial http://www.devonsocialgroup.com website forever as one of important historical significance,” says Andrew.
So what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Why isn’t Andrew worth billions?
It seems the world, or England at least, wasn’t ready for the phenomenon.
Although Andrew built what was then ‘Devon Social Group’ up to several hundred members, he had to spend as much time explaining the idea of meeting for fun in cyberspace – and getting together as a group in the real world – as he did running the organisation.
Worse was to follow. After a couple of years Andrew decided it was too much trouble and had to take the website down. “Some people used it to argue and insult each other,” he says. “Other people didn’t like sharing pictures and being talked about.” Andrew, who has M.E. – myalgic encephalomyelitis – was so ill with the chronic fatigue disease at the time that he was unable to cope with lots of upset. He hardly had the energy to battle through each day, let alone get people to understand how to behave properly in an online forum.
Andrew did try to attract financial backing. But private and public investors in the UK didn’t understand ideas that were groundbreaking and so far ahead of their time. Andrew struggled on alone and watched the likes of MySpace in 2003 and then Facebook in the USA attract lots of corporate backing and investment, and grow into organisations with a global reach and life-changing concepts.
Andrew may have missed out on a fortune, but there is a happy core to his story. He found something far more precious than money – love.
Today Andrew runs what is now ‘The Social Group’ with his wife Cathy, the woman he met through the online organisation. The title reflects what is growing from the South West into a UK national business.
They jointly run what is an independent ‘social enterprise’ – Andrew reckons he coined that phrase too, in 2003.
The couple settled on that model, of a business which takes only a modest income and acts in the interests of a wider society to run the organisation.
And they still spend rather a lot of their time explaining fully what The Social Group does.
“We arrange a programme of social events, dining out, parties, days out, walks, adventure sports and holidays for members of our organisation,” says Andrew.
“The whole point is to enable people to have friends and fun. Everyone is made welcome, all ages, singles and couples. There is no need to be lonely with our ready-made group of friends.”
Outsiders now get the idea of ‘meeting’ online and at ready-made social events, and do understand what they mean by ‘social’ in this context, but Andrew and Cathy still find themselves having to take a deep breath and explain yet again, through gritted teeth, that they are not a dating agency.
“We provide a ready-made group of friends,” says Andrew. “If you are short of friends, perhaps because you are bereaved, or have split from a partner and lost a circle of friends that way, or are a busy professional who prefers to socialise with people who are not work colleagues, or have recently moved and don’t know anybody near where you live, you can join The Social Group and make friends.”
The couple, who were also the first to bring speed dating to the UK from New York in the early Noughties, have steadily become internet 'social media celebrities' as they continue to spread their orgininal version of social networking - enabling people to connect, make friends, have fun, and make the most of their lives - to ever more people. Over the years, they have helped countless thousands to make more of their lives.
On Valentines week, support and friendship can be particularly important, especially with the commercialisation of the occasion and the media and marketing pressure that surrounds February 14.
“Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who are not in a relationship,” Andrew says. “There is pressure to be with someone. People who are single can feel odd and alone.”
Cathy adds: “That is particularly true for people who are bereaved. It is very hard for them.”
Of course friendship can lead to love. Cathy and Andrew say they have lost count of the number of weddings they have been to of people who have paired up through The Social Group – including themselves.
Life was not always so sweet for either of them, particularly so for Andrew.
Originally from Sheffield, he moved to Devon in 1991 when his first wife was offered a job in Tavistock. Andrew was delighted to arrive in pastures new: as much as he loves his native Sheffield, where he still spends a good part of the year with friends and family, he had happy memories of childhood holidays in South West England and he loved the outdoor life and being by the sea.
He was a ski instructor, a Salomon qualified ski technician and snow patrol, no less.
After moving to Devon, things began to go wrong when the highly skilled Alpine skier damaged his lower back, ironically while on the distinctly unadventurous small Plymouth artificial slope.
“Doctors could not understand what was wrong,” he recalls. “I showed symptoms as if my body had been poisoned. It seemed to get into my stomach and then into my heart and then into my limbs. I was very weak and I could not stand up. I was eventually diagnosed with M.E. At the age of 33 I was registered disabled and confined to bed and a wheelchair. I thought I would never be able to walk again.
“M.E. was not properly understood then and people were not sympathetic. They did not understand.
“My first wife left me and we got divorced.”
Andrew says he was so weak he was barely able to lift a cup to drink. “I had home helps to bath me and do everything around the house.”
He was in a bad way physically – and there was the extra burden of the emotional side. “Many people when they get divorced lose a circle of friends. That happened to me. I was too ill to socialise or keep in touch with my other friends. I lost them too because they moved or thought I was no longer interested in them. It was a horrible time. It was like being imprisoned in my own body. Somehow I pulled through.
“You are not the same all the time with M.E. You have some better days. And I thought, ‘You can get upset and angry about when you are too ill to do anything or you can try to do what you can when you are a bit better’.”
Andrew chose the latter. “I lived a bloke’s life, watching TV and having a beer. Eventually I managed to drive myself to the pub. It was great to be out. I was regarded as the nutter, the stranger who would talk to anybody. I soon discovered that making new friends was going to be very difficult!”
He eventually made a few friends and met up with them. Being originally very sociable, and quite computer-literate – he was self taught at basic programming back in the early 1980′s, enough to create his own computer games – when the internet came along in 1995 he was an early adopter.
More than that he saw the potential for making friends easily and keeping in touch.
Andrew set up what he named a Social Group. “I shortened the word socialising to social so it was less of a mouthful. I wanted to get a group of friends together to go out with, to social events which I would organise.”
He set up the website in 1997, but then encountered problems. “It wasn’t like it is today. People didn’t accept things as they do now, and here in the UK there isn’t the same right to freedom of speech that there is in America. I was threatened because people held me responsible for other people’s bad behaviour.
“I was still quite ill then and I didn’t have the energy. I needed help to develop the concept of social networking further. But when I took the site down and went looking for investment, doors were slammed in my face. It was too ahead of its time. The government didn’t want to know.”
Other potential investors, including some well known names, set up their own social sites and event companies after he had put his ideas to them, Andrew says.
Then in 1999 Andrew met Cathy through the early Devon Social Group, as it was first known.
She was going through a divorce. “I wasn’t looking for a partner,” says Cathy. “I wanted to make friends I could socialise with. I phoned up Devon Social Group and spoke to Andrew in Tavistock and we chatted for ages. We realised we were only four miles away from each other – I was in Mary Tavy village on Dartmoor – so we met up.”
The couple got on instantly. They began running the group together and organising the new website which went through a second incarnation.
“The early version of this was lost when there was a fire at the company who hosted the site,” says Andrew.
“The sites http://www.devonsocialgroup.com and http://www.cornwallsocialgroup.com from 2001 have now been preserved by the British Library, alongside the likes of Samuel Pepys Diary and other groundbreaking works of historical significance.”
After years constantly having to explain the ‘social’ part of their title, things got a little easier when the first big social networking sites came on, first MySpace, then Facebook in 2006, and then Twitter in 2007.
As with all service-based organisations, The Social Group has been affected by the challenging economic climate of the last few years. At their peak, The Social Group and its sister organisations covering Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Bristol, plus Social Group Holidays had over 1,000 active members. Today membership is in the ‘high hundreds’, Cathy says, and the couple are determined to see out the recession and continue to offer their social networking services to as many people as possible.
There are two types of annual membership. The basic, currently available for £65, offers a pay-as-you go membership. The VIP, £165 gives a fuller service including some discounts.
Events run from pub quizzes, cinema outings, and restaurant meals, to outdoor adventures, murder-mystery weekends, black tie balls, and holidays.
The vacations can be quite exotic and far-flung. Being in a group reduces the cost and can open some exclusive doors.
In America, the group have met A list celebrities such as actor Owen Wilson and indie band The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, with Andrew himself spending time with singer Peter Andre and meeting Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor.
A chance encounter in Exmouth, Australia, with Fred Reibling, the speaker of the Western Australia Parliament in Perth, led to a free VIP behind the scenes tour for the whole party.
Andrew may not be worth billions, but he has led an extraordinary life, with him appearing to have a knack of ending up in the middle of some amazing things.
But with so many other ways to get and keep in touch these days, and organise your social life through the internet, why pay for The Social Group?
“Some people are very busy and need to have things organised for them to save all the time and effort that is needed to do what we provide,” says Andrew. “They like having a ready-made group of friends and all the expertise in finding the best things to do and hosting social events that we bring. There are lots of professionals who are really busy. One headmistress said to us that she found her social life much more difficult than her working life. And many people don’t want to socialise only with colleagues. It’s far easier to let us do all the work for people, especially with all our years of experience as event organisers!”
And for some there is the possibility that a meeting might lead to the magic of a life matching, as for Andrew & Cathy.
Just returned from leading a Caribbean Cruise as international tour guides, this year the social media celebrity couple will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
Their life together is frequently hectic and it's been quite a rollercoaster.
The couple were married in Las Vegas – with the American entertainment city being a favourite destination for Social Group Holidays. At the time, the couple were leading one of the group’s holidays. Cathy’s mum, Christine, and Andrew’s parents, Brian and Maureen, were also on the trip, plus some personal friends, along with 28 ‘social’ friends.
What nobody other than Andrew knew was that he was about to pop the question and organise the ceremony while they were on holiday. As the 30-plus party posed for a group picture with Cathy at the front, at Red Rock Canyon, on a trip into the Nevada desert, Andrew suddenly got down on one knee and to the delight of all Cathy said “Oh my God!” followed by a resounding “yes!”.
Andrew says “It was the scariest thing I had ever done, but as we were already together, I felt it had to be something romantic and special.”
They were married days later, after a whirlwind of arrangements.
Contacts at their hotel pointed them to a wedding hire shop for their special day clothes, to the hilarity of them both.
“They pulled out some ‘meringues’ for me to wear,” says Cathy.
“And they showed my a sky blue suit like something out of Happy Days, “ Andrew adds. “It was awful!”
Eventually they found something more understated, but could not resist adding a touch of Vegas glam to the ceremony.
Part way through the service Cathy and Andrew and their parents took off in a helicopter for a dazzling, dizzying flight over the neon capital of the world before touching down to complete their vows.
“It was just beautiful,” says Cathy.
“We had our reception on the 50th floor on the rooftop terrace of the Rio Hotel looking out over Las Vegas,” she says.
“When we walked through the hotel people were handing me gaming chips and pinning money to my wedding dress – it’s a tradition out there.”
They stayed in a suite at the glamorous Hard Rock Hotel usually reserved for rock stars.
2011 was not such a good year for Andrew. On top of a host of problems, the death of his father last year hit him hard. Andrew and Cathy were at his bedside in Sheffield at the end.
It was one of the very few downtimes that Andrew has suffered since his life was transformed first by The Social Group and then by Cathy, with whom he now lives in Mary Tavy on Dartmoor.
2012 finds the social entrepreneurs feeling much more optimisitic about where they are heading, with them enthusiastic about life, developments in social media, newly upgraded websites, Twitter pages, and a whole new format for their magazine, as they take The Social Group UK into new status as a national business.
"We've been running weekends across the UK for some years now," says Andrew. "The Lake District, Blackpool Illuminations, Alton Towers, York, The Peak District, Tamworth Snowdome, Birmingham, and London - plus all we do in Bristol, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. So it's only been a matter of putting things on a more formal basis and establishing a UK wide Associate Membership."
The couple both feel it is time to move forward again.
But how has Andrew coped with seeing Facebook grow exponentially to become the socialising home to 845 million and a business worth £60 billion?
That contrasts with the modest living – “not the kind of money most people would get out of bed for,” says Cathy – the couple make from their business.
After all, Facebook’s success is said by internet technology experts to be about luck and technical know-how, but mostly what is called the “social graph”: using real identities and linking online socialising with people’s real-world social lives. That’s precisely the model that Andrew was using years earlier with The Social Group and dispensed with, having tried it, with the unhappy response he got, thinking it would never work.
“Something like Facebook could have been English, if people had listened to me,” he says. “We could have been worth billions.”
“But you can’t keep thinking about that.”
That’s because Andrew has found something money can’t buy – love and happiness.
You can find out more on The Social Group UK web site at http://www.thesocialgroup.uk.com
Based on information supplied by Andrew Haglington and an interview with Martin Freeman
- The Herald, Saturday February 11 2012
- The Western Morning News, Monday February 13 2012
I would hope people in England are proud of us and all we have acheived, starting something so momentus, while helping so many local people to make more of their lives, and raising funds for charities and good causes along the way.
It is flattering to be called a ‘social media celebrity’. I think I’ve always been a catalyst who has a tendency to make things happen around me.
It’s just a shame that British investors / entrepreneurs seem to prefer to steal / copy ideas, rather than invest in talent. I really don’t think we have the required culture of enterprise in this country that there is in America. I think so much more could be done to create jobs and wealth here, but the system isn’t set up that way and so many people who you expect ought to want to help you just don’t.
When you do come up with a great new idea, so many people try to stop you, ignoring you, telling you it can’t be done, or simply not ‘getting it’. What a pity those people didn’t embrace my ideas and chose not to back me!
Many thanks to the press in Devon for the recognition this week, and for all the support over the years. We have had lots of good support from the newspapers in Devon, and I would just like to say a BIG THANK YOU to all of them.
As a footnote, it’s amusing that people think my role in this is all done with. That’s certainly not the way I see things. We are currently very much involved in social media and social networking, and working very hard to make things happen. What’s happened since I started all this in 1997 is only the beginning of how far this is going to go, and here at THE SOCIAL GROUP, we have some big plans for the next couple of years – which certainly include keeping us at the heart of what we started!
So … watch this space … and try to keep up!