‘Chat benches’ to be placed in Peterborough to combat loneliness

Peterborough City Council plans to install a number of ‘chat benches’ throughout the city in an attempt to combat loneliness.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 9:56 am

The concept of the ‘chat bench’ is designed to encourage people to start talking with one another in the hope that it will bring communities together.

Having identified that they are sitting at a chat bench, people can either speak to the person sitting next to them or contact organisations who can help that will advertise their services on the bench itself.

Addressing the Full Council at its meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Sam Hemraj (Labour, East), who has put the idea forward, said: “Chat benches will hopefully combat not only the levels of loneliness in the city by encouraging residents to talk to one another again, but also identify a number of health conditions through reinforcing the work already being undertaken by council support workers.

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Chat benches are to be introduced in Peterborough

“I first heard about the idea of chat benches from Wales where an elderly man who had just lost his wife sat down at a bench and simply started talking with a complete stranger.

“The process of talking with somebody can and does have an amazing therapeutic and even healing affect and could go a long towards tackling the loneliness that many in our society already feel, but don’t know who to turn to.

“By identifying a specific bench where people can sit down and feel happy talking with another person, a complete stranger even, we will hopefully bring some of us in our communities closer together.

“Not every bench in Peterborough will be a chat bench of course, but those that are identified as such could be sponsored by local businesses, and even councillors could use their Community Leadership Fund to provide a chat bench in their ward.”

Cllr Hemraj, who works as a mental health nurse in the NHS, went on to add: “Following the Brexit process our communities have never been more divided and with loneliness now identified as a genuine mental health issue that anyone us could all suffer from at some time, this is one simple, cost–effect and easy way that we could do something in an attempt to bring people closer together once again.”

Members of the Full Council voted unanimously to adopt chat benches in the city, and cabinet member for waste, street scene and the environment Cllr Marco Cereste immediately offered to donate 12 mahogany benches that he owns to be used as chat benches throughout the city.

Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service