‘Happy to Chat’ bench evolves into coffee mornings
published on 17 Jan 2022
Penrith’s ‘Happy to Chat’ bench evolves into coffee mornings to further tackle loneliness within the town.
A bench that was installed in 2020 during the first lockdown, as a place for no one to feel alone, has evolved into a ‘Happy to Chat’ coffee morning.
The Salvation Army Penrith, located at Hunters Lane, had the bench installed in the church’s front garden, at a time when entering buildings and being with more than one person that you did not live with was forbidden under Government Covid restrictions.
Dubbed the ‘Happy to Chat’ bench, the initiative was to create socially distanced opportunities to tackle loneliness and isolation, factors accelerated by the pandemic, with those needing to talk taking a seat, whilst someone else sat on the church wall, and the simple idea has been so well received that 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.
Installing the bench was an idea created by community gardener Joan Robinson who wanted to support people that lived alone and as a result of covid restrictions may not see or speak to people for days on end. She said: “Right from the start of the coronavirus pandemic it became apparent that there were more people than you think who don’t have regular contact with others.
“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 an invitation that if you were passing by, stop and sit and either reflect quietly or share your stories, thoughts or self with whoever was sat on the bench at the time.
“It was a way to prove that no one has to be lonely, and someone is always willing to listen.”
The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench is sponsored by local plasterboard manufacturers British Gypsum and has been enjoyed by various members of the Penrith community from the elderly to those experiencing homelessness and whilst the bench is still available, people are now encouraged to attend the coffee mornings as a way of meeting new friends.
Major Carole Donaldson, joint church leader of The Salvation Army Penrith said: “The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench was so important at giving an outlet to those that felt isolated and lonely during the very height of covid restrictions. It’s been something quite lovely to see the bench in use, and people enjoying it, and the subsequent coffee morning continues to be as important as we start to manoeuvre out of the pandemic.
“The past two years have been hard for people to make new friendships, whilst also being hesitant in doing so in order to stay and feel safe, but human interaction for many is a very important tool. The simplest act of just saying ‘hello’ could brighten someone’s day and change their future.”
Attendance at the coffee morning is on a drop-in basis priced at £2.50 which includes a hot beverage and a toasted teacake.
Major Donaldson added: “This initiative creates an opportunity for everyone within our community, and for those already secluded the pandemic has made everything so much worse. This is hopefully the kick start needed to get people talking and tackle loneliness within our town and whilst a member of our corps will always be available to talk, the hope is that others will join in, which will open doors for wider friendships to be made.”
In keeping with current covid guidelines, facemasks are to be worn on entry and when navigating the church hall. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own hobbies, such as knitting, and dominoes, boardgames and craft activities are provided.