SURREY â€” Communities in Surrey might soon get a little bit friendlier.
David Beattie, a Vancouver resident, has founded Just Say Hello, a group that encourages British Columbians to start conversations with strangers to make locals a little more inviting. Having grown up in South Africa and travelled to numerous cities around the world, Beattie says Vancouverites are among the most introverted in public places.
"It’s an epidemic of social isolation," he said, adding that the keep-to-yourself attitude carries over into surrounding areas. "Surrey’s not as badly afflicted as the city of Vancouver, but it’s not great."
Last year, Beattie first noticed residents going out of their way to avoid social interaction in his neighbourhood of Collingwood. He identified a range of reasons for the geographic cold shoulder, including the number of transplants in the city, language barriers in diverse communities, intrinsic Canadian politeness, overactive lifestyles and technology such as smartphones making people antisocial. The issue of social isolation got him thinking about how strangers could meet each other, and he eventually settled on the idea of going into coffee shops and inviting others to chat with him.
"We wanted to design a system that would invite and prompt people to speak to each other in coffee shops," he said, noting that he’ll sit at a table with a sign that reads "Just Say Hello" to attract onlookers.
Beattie has since created a group on the social event website meetup.com to connect locals who are looking to find friends, and has started a Facebook group for Just Say Hello, which already has more than 550 members. Furthermore, he’s planning a Surrey event, aiming to meet strangers around SFU Surrey.
"We’re going to go to Surrey with a bunch of our volunteers and just have a go at it, see what happens," he said, adding that about 50 of the members of his Facebook group are from Surrey. "Wherever we go, we usually get people to come and chat with us."
He’s also seeking input from the City of Surrey on his initiative and how to make it grow. He plans to go before Surrey city council as a delegation.
"The City of Surrey, like virtually every municipality in this metro, has social planners. They’re going to be interested in all sorts of things that affect the Surrey voters and citizenry," he said. "We have applied to Victoria to register as a non-profit. Once we are registered, it is our intention to apply to anybody and everybody (who) has the potential to fund us."
Beattie said the majority of funds raised would go toward an advertising campaign to educate British Columbians on Just Say Hello and encourage them to talk to each other. He hopes that the group will have a ripple effect and influence Lower Mainland residents to, well, just say hello.
"We don’t own it, it’s just an idea," he said. "In time, Surreyites will go to coffee shops in Fleetwood and Fraser Heights, and do it themselves."