‘We try to make an effort to be good friends, even when we’re busy’

But the past year has been extremely difficult for everyone and due to recurring lockdowns, countless friends have not been able to see each other in person for months.

owever, many restrictions are beginning to lift and the possibility of catching up with mates, even if it has to be outdoors, is added bonus to the vaccination which will hopefully see much of our lives return to normal.

With this in mind, we spoke to five people about how they know each other and how they have managed to stay in touch and keep their friendships alive during this extraordinary year.

Laura Brown lives in Dunmurry, with her husband and three daughters (six-year-old twins and a three-year-old). She and her friend Deborah Carson have been close since they were teenagers but in the past 15 years or so, have become best friends.

“Debs and I met in secondary school as we were part of the same friendship group,” says the 35-year-old. “We are still close to this day and although we became good friends in school, we probably became ‘best’ friends when we were around 20 or 21 years old.

“I think the reason we get on so well is that we share the same sense of humour, a love for Disney and we enjoy shopping in TK Maxx after meeting for a coffee. We have also seen each other through a lot of different life stages and events, some have been difficult and some fun – but we’ve shared a lot with each other.”

Deborah, also 35, agrees and says although they knew each other since they were 11 and became friends during their GCSEs, their adult lives, despite some ups and downs, have brought them closer together.

“We’ve had our differences over the years, some really big ones but we moved forward and I’m so glad we did,” she says.

“Our friendship has survived high school, boy drama, long distances, marriage, kids and a pandemic. We were each other’s bridesmaids’, and she is auntie to my kids, even though she isn’t actually an aunt, but she deserves the title.”

Deborah, who lives in Ballynahinch with her husband and two young children (aged two and six months), says they get on so well because, while they have a lot in common, they also respect their individualities.

“I think we both love our friends like family and we’ve both felt disappointment when that kind of love has sometimes been unrequited,” says Deborah, who works as a teacher.

“We try to make an effort to be good friends, even when we’re really busy – Laura is so good at making an extra effort.

“We have become closer as have got older because we want to ‘do’ life in a very similar way – and while we are doing it, share every mundane detail with each other. Our friendship feels really organic, and it has gotten to where it is very naturally. We like lots of the same things, but we also have our own things going on.

“During the pandemic, she has been my person and if I have any news to share, good or bad, she is one of the first to hear.”

Over the past year, the friends haven’t met up as much as they would like to, but they have kept in touch via social media and got together outdoors whenever they could.

“When we have been told that we are allowed to meet up outdoors, we usually arrange a meeting straight away, in a park or a garden, while the kids play,” says Laura, who works as a counsellor.

“And we managed a wee Galgorm spa day last year when restrictions allowed. But we have mostly communicated through WhatsApp over lockdown and video-chatted a few times with a Zoom coffee date once a week, but it just wasn’t the same.

“Still, we will keep doing it, even though it is tiring to keep on top of communication, if it means we can stay in touch. But I just can’t wait to go over to her house, share a Chinese and a gin and talk through a movie together.”

Deborah agrees: “Laura was the only person I Zoomed regularly and that is testament to how much I like her,” she says.

“When restrictions allowed, we made the effort to see one another but making the most of things definitely took their toll. We love to sit in with takeout food and gin and chat all night long but had to settle for a socially distanced walk in the park with kids in tow and a coffee which goes cold. And at Christmas, we sat in camp chairs in Laura’s driveway to exchange gifts.

“So, I’m craving quality time when we can make memories with our kids like we used to. Sometimes it feels like we might never get back there. Laura and I were so excited when we had our daughters just seven months apart as we hoped they would be lifelong friends – but at this point, they have spent half their lives in lockdown during the pandemic, so they have missed out.”

We realised we had lots in common and became friends straight away’

Max McPherson has also known his mate Gavin Dundas since their teens and the pair became friends with Billy Duffy a few years ago. And not only has the trio remained friends throughout the restrictions of the past year, but they have also opened a business together, which they hope will benefit from their personal relationship.

“I met Gavin at secondary school, and we have been friends for about 18 years,” says the 32-year-old, who is married with two daughters and another baby due in August.

“We have been through a lot together over the years and have a strong friendship. Gavin came to work at Bootleggers (the bar/restaurant of which Max is the general manager) four years ago and we work well together as we share a similar mind set and bounce well off each other.

“Billy was working there when I started in 2015 and we instantly clicked and have been close mates ever since.”

Max, who lives in North Belfast, says that during lockdown the three friends decided to put their 40 years of combined experience together and have come up with a bespoke hospitality and events collaboration called Rebel & Ruse, working alongside local brands and businesses to incorporate local produce into customised drinks and food packages for outdoor events and private functions.

“Lockdown has had a positive impact on our friendship as we have had the time to discuss our career goals and this has been catalyst for this new venture we are embarking on,” he says.

“We all live close by so have been fortunate enough to meet up when restrictions allowed and having Cavehill on our doorstep has been the perfect place to come together. During stricter times we, like most of the nation, had our fair share of Zoom quizzes and sessions and also have our WhatsApp group chat, which is a constant source of banter.”

“Fortunately, we have manged to keep in contact throughout the string of lockdowns, talking about our business venture, sharing music and catching up,” adds Billy (25).

“As soon as I met Max and then he introduced me to Gavin, we realised that we had lots in common and became friends straight away.”

Gavin agrees and says that aside from their combined interest in food and drink, they also all have a ‘penchant for 90s Hip-Hop’ and this has helped them through the past year as it has been particularly difficult for their industry.

“Working in hospitality, the last year has been extremely tough as the start-stop openings and the indecisiveness has brought a lot of uncertainty to the industry,” says the 35-year-old who his living in his childhood home in Glengormley which he is currently renovating.

“The extra time we have had has allowed us to take a step back and really look at what it is we want to do and how we can do it.

“And although we haven’t been able to meet up as much as we would have liked, we have been able to make full use of Zoom calls WhatsApp and the spectacular panorama of Belfast from Napoleon’s Nose for a catch up.”

So, while we may have to practice caution for some time yet, it seems as though good friendships will weather the storm.

Belfast Telegraph