Blue Monday tackled with talking benches and friendship cafe
published on 17 Jan 2022
The Salvation Army is helping people tackle Blue Monday, often called the most depressing day of the year, with initiatives to get people talking.
Loneliness and isolation can be devastating for people and The Salvation Army has a host of unusual ways of making spaces for people to find a friendly ear and make new connections. A friendship café, a bench where strangers can sit and chat, and the Daily Hope phone line described as a lifeline for older people are raising spirits around the country.
The Southport Friendship café was set up in 2018 by Salvation Army volunteer Lesley Muir-Taylor. The café runs every Sunday afternoon at the Southport Corps (church) - with up to 30 people joining to enjoy a lunch, quiz and the company of others.
This Christmas, Lesley made sure the group was supported by hosting a Christmas party on December 19 with a visit from Father Christmas, a festive lunch and quiz. The event was sponsored by Jeannie Whatley, who has supported the Friendship Cafe since it opened.
Lesley, a retired optician who runs the café with her partner Geoff, said: “The café provides a listening ear, particularly for vulnerable people who have suffered the worst during lockdown.
“Our members have told us that they feel less isolated and more integrated in their community, improving their personal resilience and physical health.”
The Christmas party was a success. Lesley said: “It all went very well. We had 28 people attend. A great time was had by all.”
The Talking Bench
The Happy to Chat bench was installed in 2020 by The Salvation Army in Penrith, Cumbria, during the first lockdown, as a place to meet others and socialise. It was created to help to tackle loneliness and isolation, accelerated by the pandemic, with those needing to talk taking a seat. It has now evolved into the church and charity’s weekly coffee morning.
Happy to Chat takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am – 12pm within the Penrith Corps (church) and invites people to chat and safely open themselves up to conversations with strangers in the hope of forming new friendships.
The idea came from community gardener Joan Robinson who wanted to support people living alone, who, as a result of Covid restrictions, did not see or speak to people for days on end. She said: “With local restrictions I had the worry that people could be pushed further into isolation, so the bench was installed in order to allow others to chat if they needed to. It was a way to prove that no one has to be lonely, and someone is always willing to listen.”
The Daily Hope phone line
The Daily Hope telephone line, a partnership between the charity Faith in Later Life, The Salvation Army and the Church of England, started in April 2020 and has received more than 600,000 calls, totalling 8.5 million minutes of listened to prayers, hymns, services and more, said Andy Wileman, The Salvation Army’s Assistant Director of Older People’s Services.
It has been an emotional and spiritual lifeline to many elderly, isolated and vulnerable people and is quite often cited as one of the best responses to have come from the Churches during the pandemic, Andy added.
It still receives more than 20,000 calls per month. One of the letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s correspondence team about the Daily Hope, said: ‘I do not use the word lifeline carelessly, but the Daily Hope has been something of a raft on which to hang for dear life on occasions. It has soothed, consoled, and encouraged me when I have felt agitated, despairing, and disheartened.”