Harry Wearing
By Harry Wearing

Senior Staff Writer

26 April 2021

| | 3 min read

Community

Happy to Chat benches aim to combat loneliness and isolation

As part of its work to improve health and wellbeing across the City, Collaborative Newcastle partners have installed new signage across public benches to help break down the barriers of social isolation and get people talking.

Happy to chat bench
Happy to chat bench

The ‘Happy to Chat’ benches feature a simple sign which reads ‘Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello’ and are designed to help combat loneliness and encourage community interaction.

Caroline Wills, Associate Director at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), who is leading the project in Newcastle, said: “Some people may go days, or even weeks, without the simplest of human contact. With the added pressure of the pandemic, spontaneous social interactions have become rare, and many people are living in increased isolation. The Happy to Chat bench seeks to break down that social barrier and allow us to all say ‘hello’.

She continued: “As we come out of lockdown, restrictions ease and summer approaches, many people will be leaving their homes for the first time in a while, looking to interact with their community. By sitting on the bench, people will know that you’re open to a friendly talk. If you see someone sitting on one, why not consider approaching them and have a chat. You might learn something new, make a new friend, or simply brighten someone’s day!”

The benefits of Happy to Chat benches have been demonstrated by other similar initiatives across the country, including in North Tyneside and Gateshead, and a study published by the University of Sheffield in 2015 found that sitting on benches allows people to spend longer outside, which is beneficial for mental health and helps connects people within communities. This connection is particularly important for people who might find social venues like cafes too expensive or too busy.

To help promote the ‘Happy to Chat’ benches, businesses and organisations across the City are being encouraged to print off and display a poster about the initiative. To download a copy, click here.

The project has been implemented through Collaborative Newcastle, a partnership which aims to transform the health, wealth and wellbeing of everyone in the City. One of the partnership’s priority workstreams for this year is mental health transformation, with a focus on engaging local communities in shaping more accessible and person-centred solutions to mental health care and support.James Duncan, Deputy CEO at CNTW, said: “Through Collaborative Newcastle we have built a partnership to tackle the underlying issues affecting the health and wellbeing of our population. But the way that we achieve this can’t and shouldn’t be imposed by organisations like my own; we’re passionate about working with and alongside our communities to find the right solutions.

“Our work to improve mental health provision is focussed on building support around people’s needs – providing the right expertise, help and care in the right place, and at the right time. It is therefore really important that a wide range of partners are involved – from the local authority and GPs to the voluntary sector and communities themselves.

“The Happy to Chat benches are a really small but valuable part of our collective work; we want to support and enable as many people as possible to improve their own mental health.”

To find out more about the mental health transformation work currently underway, visit Collaborative Newcastle’s blog.