Blogger gets community socialising with unique West Hampstead event

Meeting your neighbours is not considered the done thing in London – unless you are after a cup of sugar or a stray piece of post.

But one blogger and his army of dedicated followers – or Whampgatherers as they are known locally – has challenged the norm for the community of West Hampstead.

On Thursday, September 8 more than 100 West Hampstead locals gathered at the Priory Tavern pub in Belsize Road, Kilburn, for drinking, dancing and a raffle.

But this was no ordinary meet up.

Tickets, which were free of charge but had to be booked in advance, had sold out within 24 hours, faster than the Take That reunion tour. At one point there were 60 hopefuls placed on a waiting list.

From young parents and councillors to 20-something Tweeters and traders, the regular Whampgathers seem to have evolved as a replacement for more traditional meeting places such as the church or the community centre – proving that even Londoners are social animals deep down.

Jonathan Turton began Tweeting and blogging about West Hampstead years ago and has been meeting up with local people since almost the beginning of the initiative, but this was by far the biggest gathering yet.

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He said: “The day before I had a lot of people saying that they were really nervous about coming along and that they didn’t know anyone – but I was kind of thinking ‘well that’s the point’ – and it was great to see them chatting away with people and mingling in the pub.

“People who live around here really love the area and don’t feel that they need to go into central London to go out or have dinner, but often they only know a few people and it’s nice to widen the social circle.

“It was really good to see people from Twitter, but also people who had just read the blog and decided to come along.”

The regular raffle of local goods and services has become a fixture of the gatherings.

This year local restaurants Wet Fish Caf�, The Gallery, Alice House, The Clifton and GBK donated meal voichers.

Newly-opened Choco Bijou offered a big box of chocolates and Bake-a-boo her popular baking book, altogether raising more than �350 for Swiss Cottage charity The Winch.

The next Whampgather is already in the pipeline with the traditional pre-Christmas event provisionally planned for early December.

Despite the success of the seven Whampgathers so far, Mr Turton hopes the numbers have started to reach saturation – if only because of the difficulty of finding a local venue big enough to accommodate them all.

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