Let’s face it, we can all be as awkward as Claire from Fleabag when it comes to intimacy. That same grimacing, upper-lip-twitching hysteria when you realise your hairdresser has made you look like a pencil and your love interest is also called Klare. Besides, why put the energy into having more 'meaningful connections' when you could pass a glorious evening bingeing E! in your pyjamas?
In Covent Garden, the House of Togetherness aims to explore intimacy and human connection in unusual and playful ways. A range of immersive workshops, talks and events, led by trained therapists, encourage participants to let down their barriers in a safe environment, without fear of judgement. An invitation to the pop-up's launch event promised Rage Club, mass spooning and a self-love clinic. 'To hell with it!' I thought, and signed up.
The logistics of a mass spooning had initially blown my mind but as launch day approached, my intrigue was replaced with reticence. Thankfully, as I entered the House of Togetherness, my reservations started to melt away. The bright, airy space was filled with a diverse range of friendly faces.
Adam Wilder, founder of House of Togetherness (HOT), explained the concept to me: "Togetherness is all about enriching the ways you connect with yourself and other people. Whatever your sexuality, gender, politics, background – you are welcome here. We give you permission to have experiences where you can speak more truthfully, so you can communicate better, learn about platonic touch and talk about sexuality – all the things we feel awkward about as British people."
House of Togetherness' motto is "Stay Sovereign Baby!" says Adam. "It's about being in touch with yourself and what you do and don’t want to do. If you don’t want to take part, it’s cool. It’s normal to find these things weird – but we want to create a welcoming and playful environment where it’s easy to explore new things."
After a welcome talk, we got cracking with our first group exercise. Adam invited everyone who wished to participate to walk around the room, gazing at our shoes. This seemed an uncanny enactment of that all-too-familiar ritual, the daily commute.
The next stage was regarding other people first with our eyes, a slight nod, then a handshake, before shaking two different people's hands at once. This turned into a hilarious, absurd octopus-like dance. Yet it was a good ice-breaker, made me feel connected to the other people in the room and it was a laugh.
After that came Adam’s 'Do It vs Feel It' talk, where he discussed how we can reframe our approaches to pleasure and sex. After that we were asked to find a partner and touch our index fingers as delicately as possible, before moving them together in a dance to classical music. At first our fingers moved in a disjointed manner, but after being asked to close our eyes, everything started to flow. We made the transition from 'doing it' to 'feeling it', the latter being so much more gratifying. Breaking into a full dance, I felt like we were Rachel Weisz and Joe Alwyn in Queen Anne’s court. Towards the end we opened our eyes and laughed with our partners; it felt great having the permission to be silly without judgement.
We’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings and telling them we don’t like the way they’re holding us.
Adam Wilder, founder of House Of Togetherness
Adam believes intimacy’s societal taboo is down to people feeling uncomfortable. "We’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings and telling them we don’t like the way they’re holding us. We can feel a bit ashamed. For most people it’s easier to avoid it. Here at the House, we want people to be able to make contact with these things, so we can live more wholly and richly. The skills of communication are getting lost – we really want to help make meaningful connection a larger part of our culture."
Psychologist Kitty Hagenbach emphasised the importance of communication and being as truthful with your children as early as possible in her 'How to Not F**k Up Your Kids' talk. Kitty invited us to listen to our partner for 90 seconds without even nodding in agreement – this surprisingly challenging exercise highlighted how rarely we let others communicate without interjecting.
During a short break I got chatting to Ali, a childcare expert who after participating in her first Togetherness workshop in February became a frequent attendee. Ali said that becoming a regular was a no-brainer. "Having a beautiful, convenient place where people can come and learn how to have a healthier relationship with themselves and one another – it’s an incredible thing. We come into this world knowing how to love ourselves and other people like masters. That’s trained out of us as we’re older – the House of Togetherness is helping us to reconnect with our true nature."
Now to the mass spooning. This was uncharted territory for me; all I could think of was the weird double spoon sandwich in Louis Theroux’s polyamory special. But the House of Togetherness’ mass spooning promised to explore non-sexual physical connection, relaxation and oxytocin release – could I be swayed?
For the drop-in session everyone entered a soothingly lit room playing gentle music, with beanies and plump pillows scattered around. We formed a tight circle, placing our hands on one another’s shoulders, then like a flower unfurling its petals we fell to the ground, trying to keep our feet together. We were then told to ask the person next to us for their consent to spoon. This small gesture made all the difference. There were no wandering hands, no hanky-panky – just pure respect for that person and the spoon. In fact, the whole thing felt so bloody lovely and relaxing, I almost dozed off.
One overlooked factor is how we communicate with ourselves. Self-love and relationship coach Sarah Adefehinti’s self-love clinic explores new ways of us loving ourselves beyond Instagrammable candlelit baths with salts sourced from the Andes. Sarah’s approach breaks down the different ways we can show some self-appreciation: physically (how we nurture / groom our bodies), emotionally (how do we soothe / safeguard ourselves), spiritually (how do we nurture our growth as beings), and finally looking at how we speak to ourselves (when we’re sad, happy, have excelled and haven’t).
In her clinic Sarah asked participants to carefully note down how they nurture each of those aspects. Filling out my self-love prescription was telling, as most of the things which nurtured me, I wasn’t putting into practice. I realised I wasn’t dedicating enough time to treating myself with kindness.
In Western culture we’re conditioned to think of rage as something chaotic and destructive. Conversely, Rich Watkins' Rage Club teaches us how to see rage as a healthy and positive emotion.
Rage Club proved to be one of the evening’s most revolutionary concepts. In Western culture we’re conditioned to think of rage as something chaotic and destructive. Conversely, Rich Watkins' Rage Club teaches us how to see rage as a healthy and positive emotion. Rich believes wisdom can come from rage – when we’re at our most angry, we’re at our most assertive and truthful; rage can prompt us to stand up for what we truly believe in. But we often don’t have a safe and nonjudgemental space to process our rage in.
Our small group took it in turns discussing where we think our rage stems from. Responses ranged from problematic relationships with family members, to being our harshest inner critic. After sharing this deep part of ourselves with strangers, we had established some common ground. The session completely reframed my very one-dimensional relationship with rage. We agreed that addressing our rage head-on without shame was both cathartic and empowering.
If there’s one thing I thought I would not do, it was leave the House of Togetherness having participated in their naked photo shoot, but I did. The experience, run by body photographer Hannah Anketell, was grounded in sovereignty, as participants were invited to choose which part of their body they wanted to be photographed.
At this point, with the evening ending, I felt I had finally let my barriers down. Most importantly, I felt safe.
At the closing ceremony, we all sat in a circle and revealed how we felt before entering the House of Togetherness, in contrast with how we left feeling. A common theme was "tired, vulnerable" or "nervous and intimidated" for many first-timers. But by the end this had transformed into "energised, empowered and grateful". I had drawn immense strength from being vulnerable; my mind felt decluttered, my body completely open – both were experiencing a new lease of life. As I continued reflecting on why I felt like this, I realised I should be asking, why can’t I feel like this more of the time?