Wellwishing way to a Christmas with friends: Heart Searching: 'Single Again' magazine has launched a support network. Rachel Lipman reports

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The Independent Online
Merry Christmas] Chestnuts roasting by an open fire . . . the family gathered round the tree . . . a time for giving and sharing with your loved ones. At least that's the traditional picture. But it's not quite like that when you're divorced or separated. For people in that position, Christmas can be a miserable time that brings into sharp focus feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Now help is at hand, thanks to Wellwishers, a friendship and support network launched by Single Again, the subscription-only magazine aimed at people who want to make a fresh start after the break-up of a long-term relationship or marriage.

Christina Basciano, founder and editor of the magazine, says: 'I felt obliged to offer something for the readers at this time of year. Subscribers were writing in and saying 'I can't face Christmas without the family.' It made me think of the first Christmases I went through after my own divorce - how isolating Christmas can be. It brings home to you how your marriage didn't work, how you were part of a family.

'Invitations to other people's Christmases made me feel like a gooseberry. They felt more like a pity invite. But single again people shouldn't have to put up with that. We can all help each other and a support network is the best way to do it.'

Wellwishers is not a dating agency - 'there are plenty of other people doing that'; the object is to put members in touch with new friends of the same sex, giving them new opportunities to get out and socialise, sharing mutual support and conversation with others in the same situation. Often, when a relationship breaks up, you discover that most of your friends were other couples, and in many cases those friendships do not continue. The result is that you have lost your partner and your friends.

'I felt that if we could put same- sex subscribers in touch with each other they could make their own social arrangements without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable,' says Christina. 'Why not, as single people, support each other? Getting in touch with like-minded single people is a good way to start over. By going on outings together, perhaps to restaurants, theatre, sport, evening classes, sharing some mutual hobby, or simply chatting, you may begin to feel more positive about yourself and your prospects for the future. And, through these types of activities, you are more likely to meet members of the opposite sex in natural and relaxed circumstances. We all need friends. They are a vital support network.'

There are separate registers for men and women. To enrol, Single Again subscribers fill out a profile which is sent, identified only by a registration number, to other Wellwishers. If another member wants to get in touch, you are asked for your consent to release a first name and telephone number only.

It is perhaps not surprising that the idea has struck a chord with women, who in general are more familiar with the idea of networking and mutual support groups. But there was a question mark about men: just as they don't like to admit to failure with the opposite sex, they are reluctant to concede that they have problems making friends.

However, says Christina, men - who make up 50 per cent of Single Again subscribers - are also responding to the Wellwishers scheme. 'That pleases me no end. I was concerned that they might not feel comfortable networking with other men. But men who have been through a divorce need new mates who are not associated with the marriage. It's networking: you find that you can have a very interesting and fulfilling life, separate from your work and separate from your marriage. In many ways, that's what Single Again is all about.'

Issue 3 of the magazine, out in mid-January, continues the themes of the first two, combining practical advice for single people with a variety of entertaining features. There will be a piece on what to do when it's Friday night and you have no plans for the weekend, two articles about the world of the personal small ads - and a feature about the Independent Heart Searching page by its editor, David Marsh. Other items range from astrology and psychotherapy to singles holidays and recipes for 'single snacks'.

It will also launch the 'barter exchange', where people can offer to exchange child-minding duties and various skills - you might, for example, carry out DIY for someone in exchange for their doing your accounts. If you cannot afford a holiday you might offer to 'swap' your house in London for a week with someone in, say, Wales.

'Of all our ideas for the future, this one pleases me the most,' says Christina, 'because it's networking in its purest form.' Another of those ideas is to hold a series of meetings around the country - 'a cross between a social evening and a workshop' - with guest speakers and discussions on subjects of interest to subscribers.

Single Again has already come a long way from its origins as a local newsletter. It has hundreds of subscribers all over the country and some on the Continent. As it has expanded Christina, a 32-year-old Canadian, has given up her job in public relations to edit the magazine full-time. She has also become something of a media celebrity, appearing, for example, on BBC television's Kilroy earlier this week to take part in a discussion on the Government's proposals on divorce.

'I started the magazine because I was incredibly frustrated and shocked at how single again people were perceived. There was no place for us in society. But the statistics are too high for us to be a peripheral group. The idea was to provide a common voice and a way for us to communicate. It has just caught on like wildfire. The beauty of Single Again is that it came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. Now it has taken over my life.'

Would she continue if she had a new partner, and was 'single again' no longer? 'Yes, because I know what being single again is all about. That's what counts - I've been there.'

Single Again, Courtview House, Hampton Court Road, Hampton Court KT8 9BY (tel 081-943 5353; fax 081-977 1474).

A subscription for three issues costs pounds 6. Enrolment in Wellwishers for six months costs an additional pounds 30.

(Photograph omitted)

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