'Chatty Bench' aims to become a real talking point

Saturday 26 March 2022 1:00

An idea by a senior social worker within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to provide a ‘chatty bench’ to encourage people to sit and talk to each other has come to fruition.

As a newly employed multi -disciplinary team social worker based in a GP practice in Banbridge, Fidelma Ruddy noticed that during the pandemic, one issue that kept arising across all generations was loneliness. She said that this new initiative will give people a chance to reconnect to each other and improve their mental health.

“Often those who were referred to me expressed their gratitude at someone making contact with them and simply listening. While onward referrals were appreciated and very relevant, the engagement with another human being seemed to offer the greatest reward and so I began looking for a cost effective, socially distanced method of offering support to people, on their terms, when and where they may need it, and ‘chatty benches’ proved to be the perfect idea.”

Fidelma approached ‘The Right Key’, a recovery focused organisation who work with people with addiction and mental health issues, to see if they would be interested in being involved with the project.

The Loughbrickland Social Enterprise Centre agreed to design and construct the benches with pupils from nearby New-Bridge Integrated College also assisting with the construction of the benches.

Fidelma is a member of The Southern Area Loneliness Network and is delighted that the group are now working in partnership with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to roll our this initiative in various locations across the Southern Trust area.

“Chatty Benches’ is the first step to helping someone feel a bit less lonely. Even through its construction and design process, it has promoted interaction and conversation to address the aspect of loneliness.”

Brian Beattie, Interim Director of Older People and Primary Care, said: ““Tackling loneliness by helping people to build social connections is really important. Loneliness can be felt by people of all ages and backgrounds and can seriously impact people’s quality of life and even their health.

“We are delighted to have both the community and voluntary sector involved as well as well as the local school as part of our co-production project.”

The Trust continues to encourage individuals to adhere to Public Health related COVID guidance in respect of maintaining social distancing.

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