My dad has talked to people all his life. In his 20’s he travelled by boat as a £10 Pom to Australia where he talked his way around the country, with jobs in hospitals on TB wards – until they realised he wasn’t vaccinated, on sheep farms, fitting telegraph wires across the desert, and on the buses. He then talked his way back home, overland – through India, Afghanistan and Europe, there are tales he can tell of bus rides through the Kyber pass, fights with ungallant men involving girls, and arrests in the night. Then of course he came home, fell in love and had me, ran businesses, sold things, and all the time talking. Every Saturday we would go and visit an older, lonely man dad had come across, we would take food, but mostly company and chat.
Now my dad is himself older and whilst not on his own he misses the day to day interactions that have always been a part of his life. In this he is not so different to many other people. The Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that the number of people experiencing loneliness is growing. And loneliness is not just about feeling lonely. It has also been associated with mental and physical health issues such as, poor sleep, depression, and Alzheimer’s.
So, what can we do to help reduce loneliness? My solution was to make a space where people like my dad, can talk to others without being afraid of being judged, hence the Talking bench. It is really just a bench in the Winter Garden which has always been there, but by labelling it as a space where people are allowed to talk to others the hope is that it can start both conversations and a conversation about loneliness. And it has! We now have some money from Age Better in Sheffield for a competition in schools to design a bench. And one of the schools involved is going to hold a community Christmas lunch for lonely local people.
From one small idea others may grow. So, here’s to Talking Benches and conversations and small ideas leading to big change.
Talking benches is launching in the Winter Gardens on November 27th 2017, please come down and support!