The ‘talking benches concept’ was started by Alison Owen-Jones in 2019. She introduced the concept of the “Happy to chat” bench which was then expanded around the world. Chat benches have appeared in Australia, Canada and the Ukraine.
Loneliness and mental health issues have been prevalent throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions have been placed on how and when we socialise which has exacerbated loneliness for many and increased mental ill health. The elderly are particularly vulnerable and also men, who have been shown to struggle more with reaching out and talking about mental health.
Talking has been evidenced to exert a positive impact on mental wellbeing.
Many may feel that reaching out to a stranger to talk may be may awkward or judged negatively by society.
Only this week Sir Tom Moore’s daughter Hannah made a video encouraging people to walk and talk during lockdown. We can never underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others on our emotional wellbeing.
This time of year can be difficult for many historically. Darker evenings, lowered light levels and the run up to the festive season can be difficult times for many. With the pandemic this year and lockdown restrictions creating extra psychological pressure on people and their wellbeing.
As part of my community focus and ongoing Compassionate Horsham Campaign, I want to introduce ‘talking benches” and “walk and talk” locations locally to help mange loneliness and connect people in the hope of supporting mental health in our community as we continue to navigate the pandemic. I want the overall project to be called “Conversation Starter: Connecting People, Connecting Communities and Enhancing Wellbeing”. A recognisable project supported by those in our community including focal points, café’s, shops, community centres and local organisations to get involved in supporting either talking benches (when allowed with current restrictions) or walk and talk points where people can meet and talk while walking together. Kaya café in Horsham Park is one venue that has agreed to be involved and we are hoping others will follow suit. It is ideally located for people to walk and start a conversation together round the park this winter.
I am urging local and wider communities to engage with this project and act as host for signs to either ‘walk and talk’ or ‘talking benches’. Interested parties can contact me to get involved via the ‘Compassionate Horsham’ Facebook Group or email at email@example.com.