Friendly benches – It’s good to talk

The Community Builder team have always worked to bring isolated people together and help us all lead fuller and more fulfilled lives and reduce our dependence on professional services.

Loneliness and isolation are serious issues that affect many people today. According to a recent study by the Office for National Statistics, more than one in four adults in the UK reported feeling lonely in the past seven days. Loneliness can have negative impacts on our physical and mental health, such as increased risk of depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and early death

One of the reasons for setting up the community builder team was to promote health and wellbeing by reducing loneliness and isolation, in the beginning for over 50s, but now for everyone in our communities.

We have chosen ‘friendly benches’ as one of the ways we can act to combat loneliness and to create opportunities for social connection in public spaces, such as parks, walking routes and leisure paths.

A park bench, chosen as a ‘friendly bench’, is a simple and visible means to combat loneliness. The designated benches will have a sign and recognised symbol that says that anyone who sits on it is open to having a conversation with a stranger. The idea is to encourage people who feel lonely or isolated to sit on the bench and chat with someone who might be in a similar situation or just looking for some company.

Although the benches are for all of us to connect with each other the ‘friendly bench sign’ will have information for people in crisis on how to contact Samaritans and other services.

We realise that to some this may sound a dangerous or risky idea, but we would say not as risky as leaving fellow citizens out of their place in the life of our community.  We will work closely with the community at large and with partner organisations to choose benches in busier well-lit places and make it clear that no one has any obligation to speak with anyone else.

We would like to hear from anyone in the community who has a memorial bench dedicated to a loved one. Would that person like the idea of lonely people stopping for a chat on ‘their’ bench? If you think they would, please get in touch with your local community builder or email [email protected].

Image by Freepik