The BBC recently reported how Happy to Chat benches are tackling loneliness: A simple dog walk has led to a craze that is sweeping the UK and as far afield as Australia and North America. Allison Owen-Jones, 53, watched as an elderly man sat alone on a park bench.

"All of a sudden, people are not invisible anymore," she said and explained for 40 minutes an elderly man sat on a bench in a busy city centre park - alone.

He was ignored by the passing dog walkers, joggers, parents with pushchairs and teenagers with headphones, all too busy to even say "hello".

Did he want company? Did he want to be alone? Did anyone actually care?

"There was some of that British reserve that made me think he may think me weird if I sat next to him," said Allison Owen-Jones, 53, from Cardiff.

"Wouldn't it be nice if there was a simple way to let people know you're open to a chat, I thought.

"So, I came up with the idea of tying a sign that would open the avenues for people. I didn't want it to sound too vulnerable, so I wrote, 'Happy to chat bench. Sit here if you don't mind someone stopping to say hello'.

The idea, in May this year, led Allison to laminate cards and begin tying them to benches in parks around her home city.

It was a blissfully simple idea to tackle loneliness that swiftly created a buzz.

The Senior Citizen Liaison Team charity took the idea a step further.

It has already set up partnerships with both Avon and Somerset Police and Gwent Police to have permanent benches across their areas and arrange volunteers to "chat-bench".

Word has spread through social media and now "Happy to Chat" benches are popping up all over the world - with the exact same words composed by Allison.

And now after seeing similar benches in other communities, the Stapleford Community Group went about creating their own in the town centre.

The bench is located in the Walter Parker VC Memorial Square in Derby Road.

Richard MacRae who runs the Stapleford Community Group website said he had recently been speaking to people about loneliness.

Mr MacRae added: "I was at an event and someone told me about people who were heading out hoping to bump into someone they could speak to and that just made me really sad.

It was playing on my mind when the idea of the bench was suggested, after my mum spotted other places doing it."

bench 2

A simple sign was created, printed and added to the bench in the town on Tuesday, October 29.

"The feedback has been brilliant, and it's not cost anything," Mr MacRae said.

"It's an ideal place as well as it needs to feel safe if you're speaking to strangers.

"And it's near to cafes in case people want to continue chatting inside." 

Sharon Jones manager at the Post Office just opposite the bench said it was "a fabulous idea".

"I know a lot of older people have lunch afternoons at the Salvation Army next door and I often see the same people here," she said.

"Lots of locals also have coffee mornings too.

"It's such a helpful community and this is a really nice idea. It definitely can't do any harm."

Owner at Two for Tea, Vanessa Sabin is quite familiar with the older residents in the area and knows the problems with loneliness.

She said: "Probably 75 per cent of my customers are retired and many are widowed or single.

"They always come in for a chat, and because we're small, we double people up to make friends.

"It's nice to know there are other things out there, and with high streets struggling, it's even more important.

To read the full BBC article click here.

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