Across the world, the concept of Sunrise Socials has taken off as a way to combat the loneliness and isolation the pandemic has thrown at us.
Meet the Co Tyrone group who have formed a safe community that is welcoming of everyone while appreciating the county’s natural scenery.
After seeing the success of Sunrise Socials happening out in Sydney, 26-year-old Shannon Rafferty from Carrickmore saw an opportunity to bring the concept to Tyrone and reach out to those struggling with the impact of coronavirus.
Speaking to MyTyrone about the origins of these events, Shannon said: “The Sunrise Socials started out in Sydney by ex-pat Caroline McKenna who is originally from Newcastle County Down.
“Caroline during covid started a podcast called A ‘County Down' Under talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of living as an ex-pat in Sydney.
“From this Caroline had ex-pats contacting her about how isolated they were feeling during covid, with restrictions in place Caroline set up the Sunrise Socials as coffee shops were not open for sit-in, they grew and grew each week which then lead Caroline to start events where she has raised thousands for charities all over the world.”
During the second lockdown at Christmas, Shannon noticed that a lot of people were struggling in the area, including herself, as the stress of trying to maintain a full-time job and finish university was extremely tough.
“I saw that people locally were hoping for something. I contacted Caroline about getting a page set up here and later that week I set up Sunrise Social Tyrone.
“The page grew faster than I ever imagined - the week of Darkness into Light, we had over 100 people show up to various locations across Tyrone. We started with 10 volunteers and have grown now to have 34 and are always on the lookout for more,” she explained.
She described Sunrise Social Tyrone as a place where people feel welcome no matter what and can come and talk or just be alone with their thoughts.
Shannon continued: “We don't put pressure on anyone to do something they don't want to do.
“Our page is always available to give a message if you want to come and maybe feel scared to do so alone.
“Many people started out by coming to our events alone and have grown to meet so many friends.”
The group run their sunrise meet up every two weeks and sometimes will also hold a mid-week meet up for a swim or session, picnic and somewhere to talk.
“We are also currently running a raffle where local businesses have all been amazing and donated towards in aid of Martine Dines who is currently fighting breast cancer out in Sydney and is a dear friend of Caroline,” she added.
Looking towards the future, Shannon says there are big things to come for Sunrise Social Tyrone as they continue to bring together people from all over the county.
“The future is big for Sunrise Social Tyrone with wellness events, some bonkers bingo and bottomless brunches on the horizon where we will continue to raise money for local charities.”