'Happy to chat' benches installed in parks to help tackle loneliness
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
A number of 'Happy to Chat' benches have been designated in parks across Suffolk to help prevent social isolation, which has become even more prominent during coronavirus.
The 'Happy to Chat' initiative encourages people to chat together, even if it is just to say a quick socially distant hello.
It runs alongside East Suffolk Council's new Talking Bench scheme, which hopes to encourage residents to speak to each other in an effort to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
The Talking Benches have been funded by the Kesgrave, Rushmere St Andrew, Martlesham, Carlford and Fynn Valley Community Partnership to help break down the barriers of starting a new conversation.
The benches, which will be identifiable with ‘Happy to Chat’ plaques donated by Healthwatch Suffolk.
It is hoped that it will help create community connections and strengthen support systems.
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Seven benches have now been installed in Martlesham Heath, Grundisburgh, Swilland/Witnesham, Great Bealings, Charsfield and Rushmere St Andrew.
Nicole Rickard, head of communities at East Suffolk Council, said: “We’re really pleased to be introducing this new scheme as we know the simple act of talking to somebody can have a very positive impact on the wellbeing of someone who is struggling with social isolation and/or loneliness.
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"Simply stopping to say hello to someone at a ‘Happy to Chat’ bench could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in our communities and help to make life a little better for them.”
Simon King, the Suffolk Voluntary and Statutory Partnership (VASP) co-ordinator for mental health, said the simple message creates an opportunity for people to come together.
"People need to know it is safe to say hello," said Mr King.
"There is lots of kindness in the community, but some people may need that little bit of extra human contact."
He said the idea is that someone who is feeling lonely may sit on the bench, but equally it may also be a coincidence.
With the support of Woodbridge Town Council, the 'Happy to Chat' signs have also been placed on seven benches in the market town.
Mr King said it is important that we do not assume there is a particular profile of someone who is feeling isolated.
"It could be anyone at all," he said.
"Someone in their 20s with a large group of family and friends around them may be feeling isolated in their own mind."
Mr King said people need to know it is safe to say hello, and although he praised the use of social media to keep us connected throughout coronavirus, he feels "it is not the same as seeing someone and chatting face to face".
"Life is like snakes and ladders - sometimes everything is going up like the ladders, but you never know when you might hit a snake and go down," he added.