What is Social Muscle Club?

An enigmatic event, emanating goodness from every Facebooky pore. My husband and my younger brother were both, naturally, desperate to come along.

The Basement foyer filled up fast. My brother admired the diversity of the crowd. Then the bell rang. All but six of us drained from the room, to see the upstairs show. My brother maintained a stoic smile. My husband, now obviously fighting the urge to flee, glanced in my direction in that steely “you’re lucky I love you” kind of way.

SMC Lady in Charge, Emma Newborn emerged from the theatre, clocked her audience (an impressive nine by then), took a deep breath, disappeared again. My husband shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Only fifteen minutes earlier I'd told him he wasn't allowed to ask for a puppy. A couple of hours later, when a puppy-sitting opportunity (the perfect compromise!) came up for grabs, I thought he’d jump at it. He didn’t, and said later that it was because I’d told him he wasn’t allowed. Take that as a warning, kids. Try not to drain all the childlike wonder from your spouse. Words count.

ANYONE can play this game. It’s a truly inclusive reminder that we are all one.

In the end, all three of SMC’s trestle tables filled up and the event ran exactly to time. A small but perfectly formed troupe of Saturday afternoon givers and receivers.

What is Social Muscle Club? Something you need. Something you have to offer.

It’s as simple as that. You write each down on separate pieces of paper, toss them in the hat, then wait to see what happens.

Our moderator, the terrifically entertaining Kayleigh, had us chatting away like bridesmaids while the other two tables studiously began the exercise at hand. We eagerly rose to the challenge of fulfilling each other’s needs, slammed the communal bell with each successful trade, applauded our own success, and scurrilously used the game itself to force Kayleigh into sharing scandalous stories.

The young gent to my left committed without pause to one gift after another: a shoulder massage, refreshing someone's beer, taking someone else to a festival film. He also ended up sending me a positive Facebook message every day for a week. Legend.

Guest artist Victoria Abbot had an otherwise perfectly mild-mannered chap screaming "I'm gonna punch your throat so hard it's gonna come out your butt" to an imaginary person stood on the open palm of her hand. Minutes later, the same guy received the gift of website and SEO support for his developing business. Swings and roundabouts.

I went in with a BBQ (sans gas bottle) to share and left having offered up my time in more ways than I'd originally bargained on. And happily so. Other exchanges included housesitting, spiritual guidance, home-cooked meals, Dungeons & Dragons or alpine skiing lessons, a call for artistic collaboration, book and boardgame recommendations, and a doctor offering to help someone regulate their sleeping patterns. I left with a timely reminder to get in touch with an old friend.

SMC’s simple vision warms cockles within moments. An event run entirely on community participation, powered by kindness, and providing rewards generated by pushing outside your comfort zone. ANYONE can play this game. It’s a truly inclusive reminder that we are all one.

Also, they gave us free chips.

The event ended with a free hug being offered up and accepted by the entire floor. An actual queue of people lined up to hug my (and obvs the best) moderator.

As strangers exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, it certainly felt like the right place to be that Saturday afternoon.

“I really enjoyed that. Thanks.” - My husband, driving home.

Anna Nuria Francino, Social Muscle Club Enthusiast

Social Muscle Club is on at Basement from 4pm, Sat 06 Oct.