By Anna Dutton
One of the great things about the customary British reserve is that it justifies the silence when you sit on a train for your morning commute or ride the bus, or even as you go for a walk, to be a normal social situation. It’s assumed that everyone has somewhere they need to be so why bother asking what they had for dinner last night? As useful as this custom is for the morning commute, loneliness is becoming an increasing problem in society affecting 17% of older people (according to a report by Age UK).
However, Allison Owen Jones, a 53-year-old from Cardiff, has taken an innovative approach to solving the problem by creating small signs and sticking them on benches to encourage people to feel more connected.
Loneliness affects not only a person’s livelihood, but also their memory and even their physical health and it has become an increasing cause of exploitation amongst the elderly. Although the idea was primarily aimed at tackling loneliness in the elderly, the emphasis placed on taking time out of your day to have a chat can benefit many in society who may be feeling isolated. It could help new mothers who have been unable to leave the house to chat to someone that day; those who may not be feeling themselves; or provide relief from a busy working day during someone’s lunch break.
Allison’s signs are thought to reassure passers-by as the message reads: “Happy to chat bench. Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello”, inviting someone to sit down if they feel like it. Such a simple idea seems to have really taken off with the “happy to chat benches” cropping up all over Wales.
The Senior Citizen Liaison Team reportedly liked the idea so much that they decided they wanted to help it go further. With the help of social media, word has spread with similar benches appearing all over the world in places like Australia, Canada, as well as a little closer to home in places like Somerset and wider Wales.
Cardiff Council has confirmed that it will have three permanent “happy to chat benches” implemented in parks across the capital; there are already benches in other areas of Wales like Barry, Tenby, and Newport to name a few. There are also benches in Devon and Greater Manchester.
It’s amazing how such a simple idea has made such a difference to people’s lives and really shows how despite the fact many of us lead a very busy day-to-day life, taking time out for a little chat can benefit us just as much — if not more — than the dreaded 30-minute spin class.