'Happy to Chat' benches aim to help tackle loneliness in South Tyneside
Around 40 public benches in parks, open spaces, cemeteries, town centres and villages, are being marked with signage that identifies them as a place for people to start conversations with each other.
The scheme is part of work to help improve health and wellbeing across the borough and break down the barriers of social isolation and loneliness.
Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “We are delighted to be introducing Happy to Chat benches across the Borough.
“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. This very challenging and difficult period has certainly highlighted the importance of human social interactions for positive mental health.
“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.
"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.”
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.
Similar initiatives in other locations across the country have been very well received by local communities.
Councillor Anne Hetherington, lead Member for Independence and Wellbeing, said: “Social isolation and loneliness can have such a detrimental impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and it can happen to anybody, at any point in their lives.
"Even a young person, with a large support network, can feel isolated within themselves.
“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.”