‘Happy to chat’ benches aim to get people talking across South Tyneside

South Tyneside residents are being urged to sit down and take the time to chat.

Around 40 public benches across the borough are being marked with signage that identifies them as Happy to Chat benches – a place for people to start conversations with each other.

The benches feature a simple welcoming sign which reads “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello,” making them easily identifiable as a Happy to Chat bench.

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The scheme forms part of the council’s work to improve health and wellbeing across the borough and break down the barriers of social isolation and loneliness.

Council leader Coun Tracey Dixon said: “We know only too well the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s wellbeing, with many people not having any social contact whatsoever, due to lockdowns and periods of isolation and shielding.

“We hope the concept of the Happy to Chat benches will help to encourage community interactions between people of all ages as well as strengthen support for those experiencing loneliness.

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"They are a simple and effective way to help people start up conversations while they are our enjoying our green spaces or strolling through our towns and villages.”

Coun Anne Hetherington (left) and CounTracey Dixon with one of the new Happy to Chat benches in Whitburn VillageCoun Anne Hetherington (left) and CounTracey Dixon with one of the new Happy to Chat benches in Whitburn Village
Coun Anne Hetherington (left) and CounTracey Dixon with one of the new Happy to Chat benches in Whitburn Village

The council has been working with local Friends and volunteer groups to help determine the locations of the Happy to Chat benches.

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Councillor Anne Hetherington, Lead Member for Independence and Wellbeing, said social isolation and loneliness could have such a detrimental impact on people’s health and wellbeing and anyone could be affected: “Even a young person, with a large support network, can feel isolated within themselves,” she said.

“These new Happy to Chat benches create an opportunity for people to speak to each other face to face. The simple act of taking time out to chat with someone new, even for a brief ‘hello’, could make a real difference to the vulnerable people in our communities, who are struggling with loneliness and isolation. It could be the best part of their day.”

As Covid-19 remains present in communities, people are encouraged to consider ongoing public health advice and respect others when out and about to help reduce the spread of the virus. Those who are symptomatic or feel unwell should stay home.

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