Recently, whilst browsing through the usual gloomy and disheartening news feeds, I came across a heart-warming story. The article introduces us to an extremely simple, yet ingenious, idea which is reportedly gaining traction around the world – ‘Happy to Chat’ benches. These are basically public benches with signs attached saying “Happy to chat bench. Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello”.
The aim is to help combat loneliness by providing the opportunity for those who feel alone or isolated to socialise with others and make new connections. The sign is said to remove the ‘invisible social barrier’ that stops us from engaging with others.
Loneliness can be very bad for our health, and many consider it one of our greatest health concerns. One study likened extended periods of social isolation to smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of health risk, and claims it is actually worse for you than obesity and physical inactivity. Another study revealed that over 9 million people in the UK feel they are often or always lonely and that whilst loneliness is particularly prevalent in older adults, it also affects people of all ages. For older adults, reported statistics were particularly disconcerting – over half a million older adults in the UK do not see or speak to anyone for stretches of at least 5 or 6 days at a time. Similarly, the figure reported for disabled people was equally alarming – at least 50% will be lonely on any given day.
We all have our part to play in combatting social isolation and loneliness, and if these ‘happy to chat’ benches are helping to fight this blight then they should only be encouraged. Links to a couple of reports on loneliness can be found below: