Benches in town aim to combat loneliness

The Happy to Chat bench with its new sign outside Costa in Sleaford. EMN-191012-002631001
The Happy to Chat bench with its new sign outside Costa in Sleaford. EMN-191012-002631001

Two Sleaford area residents have set up two ‘Happy to Chat’ benches to combat loneliness in the town.

Janey Rowlands, 32, read a news story about man who felt lonely after his wife died but heard of a woman in Wales who had established benches in public places where older and willing younger people could meet and chat to reduce feelings of social isolation.

He decided to copy the idea and Janey thought she could do the same.

After she canvassed interest on Facebook, Richard Howes of Signs Express got in touch and offered to make a couple of special signs, free of charge. Janey negotiated with Sleaford Town Council the adoption of two of its existing, well-used benches, outside Costa and Wise Owl, and the ‘Happy to Chat’ signs have just been installed.

Janey said: “The signs say ‘Happy to Chat, take a seat, if you don’t mind someone stopping to say ‘hello’.”

She explained the signs act as ‘ice breakers’, signifying it is OK if anyone is feeling lonely or isolated, or willing to offer a friendly face to others, to sit down for a comforting chat.

Janey said: “Maybe someone is not very active or doesn’t see their family very often. The benches give you confidence that it will not be impolite to strike up a conversation.

“It is a British thing that people sometimes don’t even know whether to say ‘hello’. It is not just older people. It is good for mums who haven’t got their family around and are otherwise stuck at home all day off work with the baby.”

She explained that she is originally from a small, closely-knit community on the Falkland Islands and her husband is in the RAF and they have travelled around the country meaning she has had to make an effort to join clubs and strike up new friendships without family close by to turn to.

“It is so important to feel connected to other people,” she said. “I made friends with an elderly person on the train home from work and he has since been to visit and meet the children.”

A couple of ‘Happy to Chat’ benches were also recently installed with the help of the parish council in Heckington too.