Police in the UK Create 'Chat Benches' to Combat Loneliness

This allows socially isolated people to sit and have conversations with other people.

Jul 8, 2019

(Avon and Somerset Police)

People are more connected today than ever before. We have FaceTime, Facebook, WhatsApp, and SMS on our smartphones. We can video chat with anyone anywhere. But people today are still lonely. What we miss are real face-to-face conversations.

That's why there is a new initiative in the UK to alleviate loneliness and to make it easier for the socially isolated to converse with strangers via a "chat bench". Police in Burnham-On-Sea, an English seaside town unveiled two of the benches – one with a sea view and one in Taunton’s Vivary Park – in June 2019. Now, anyone who is feeling lonely can sit and converse with friendly strangers.

The concept is remarkably simple. Each bench has a welcoming sign on it that reads: “The ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench: Sit Here If You Don’t Mind Someone Stopping To Say Hello.”

“The sign simply helps to break down the invisible social barriers that exists between strangers who find themselves sharing a common place,” said Burnham-On-Sea Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Tracey Grobbeler to Burham-On-Sea.com.

“Simply stopping to say ‘hello’ to someone at the Chat Bench could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in our communities and help to make life a little better for them,” Grobbeler added.

A Burnham-on-Sea Coastguard spokesperson told Yahoo News that they are in full support of the initiative, having witnessed firsthand the toll that loneliness, abuse, and mental illness can take on a person.

“In our role as Coastguards, we deal with many people who are battling mental health issues, they can feel isolated and unable to share what is going on, often this can be alleviated just by a simple chat,” the spokesperson said.

'"A simple ‘Hello’ or ‘Are you OK?’ can make such a difference to a person." 

This initiative coordinated with the UN World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 when local police invited their communities to recognize the value that older bring to their communities. The public has been asked to check in on elderly friends, neighbors, and relatives who are at risk of loneliness and abuse.

According to the police, only 17 percent of elderly people have contact with friends and neighbors once a week and since the UK has a population of around 12 million people that are aged 65 or older, this is a big concern.

The police also said that there is a greater risk for abuse – physical, financial, and neglect – and that not everyone has someone in their lives who can see the signs of abuse and offer to help. So, if you see an elderly person on the chat bench, go over and talk. it could make a big difference in their life.

The UK has a government strategy to combat loneliness that includes physicians prescribing patients to community activities and government services that can improve their health and wellbeing.

The government also partnered with the Royal Mail in a trial program called "Safe and Connected" that ended in March 2019 where postal workers checked on isolated and lonely people and linked them with the support they needed.

The UK is making great strides in combating loneliness and the "chat benches" are only a small part of the solution but it is a very easy way to identify people in the community who need help and to begin to address their isolation.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.