Spice Doing It Themselves
Spice Activity Group addicted to real life
by Ben Garside

Ski-ing, white-water rafting, rally-driving and microlight flying are all sports you can watch on the more obsure subscription TV channels, but thousands of Brits are choosing to do it themselves, for less than the price of a monthly cable subscription.

Spice is a UK-wide adventure group with around 15,500 members set up 20 years ago to give members a wide range of unusual and daring experiences, but it has evolved to provide members of all ages with an outlet all kinds of social events, such as regular dances, theatre visits, meals out, as well as regular sports clubs and holiday breaks.

One of several UK groups set up not just for singles, dance fiends or sporty types, but with the common membership of people unwilling to settle for social life dominated by work, the pub, or surrounded by their own four walls and a goggle box and determined to get out and make the most of the opportunities outside.

As Spiceīs Thames Valley co-ordinator Dominic Renshaw explains, Spice members, men and women with an average age of about 40 but ranging from 18 to 84, can have many reasons for signing up but often find a common bond of people living life to the full.

"People join to increase their social life, and you often find they have gone through some kind of life-changing experience such as a moving to a new area, a divorce or suffering a bereavement, to give them time to reflect and say to themselves 'why am I sitting here on my sofa when I could be out there doing whatīs on the TV myself?"

Dominic admits that the activities arranged by Spice can always be arranged by people themselves, but believes the value of the group comes with having everything arranged ahead of time, usually at a discount, with a like-minded set of friendly people to do it with. Spice is not a singles club either, about 30 percent of the 800 local members are couples, although Dominic- like several members- met his partner Jane through the groupīs activies, and they now run the group together.

"Often the activities we arrange are things that canīt really be set up without a larger group or people find that theyīre other friends arenīt really interested in trying them out or are too busy with other things, thatīs where we can come in, says Dominic.

"Having a programme of activities that you just need to book and turn up for is often the little push that people need to get up and do them instead of sitting at home."

People arenīt strangers for long and many members meet up and see each other regularly at their favourite type of events, be it walking, Ceroc dancing or badminton.

"We had two members who only realised they were next-door neighbours after they got talking when they met up through our shared transport list. They had lived side-by-side for two years and didnīt even know it."

After attending a few events (the Thames Valley group tries to arrange at least one activity each weekday evening across the region, with weekend events and trips to choose from) members find their confidence has improved and their circle of friends has dramatically increased.

Chelsea Duke, 28, from Winchester, joined Spice 12 months ago when her life was in a rut after her recent divorce, many of her friends were married and busy starting families.

"With so few single friends I could call on, couldnīt even pop out of a spot of Christmas merriment this time last year... It was at this point I realised that if I didnīt kick start my life, no one else would," she says.

"Since joining Spice and going along to events with complete strangers, Iīve found a confidence I never knew I had. Iīve made the most amazing friends and have enjoyed many new experience. Thinking back to just last Christmas I canīt believe how my life has changed, I now know that my future direction involves adventure, travel, and above all, living life to the full."

Val Edwards, a 43-year-old divorcee from Abingdon, joined Spice in January 2004 not long after her partner died, initially as a chance to go on a skiing holiday, a prospect she didnīt fancy on her own. She soon took part in abseiling, kayaking and climbing adventures, as well as heading out to regular theatre nights and black tie balls.

"Having only just moved to Abingdon I didnīt know anyone in the area, when my partner died this added to the sense of isolation I feld as I hadnīt had the chance to build up a social circle. The thought of going into social situations on my own terrified me," says the boarding school house mistress.

"The friends that I have met through my new social life have been just fantastic. I am so lucky to have this group of like-minded people as part of my everyday life. I feel so much braver these days."

Spice costs 25 pounds plus VAT a quarter to join, with regular welcoming events planned for new members. For more information contact Dominic on 0118 972 4810 or visit www.thamesvalleyspice.co.uk for details of this and other Spice groups in the UK.