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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Hoping bench will be talk of the town again

Biddulph’s “chatty” bench is making a return after the pandemic put a stop to small talk.
For almost a year, nattering with neighbours and chinwagging with chums was outlawed.

But the reinstatement of the town’s “Happy to Chat” bench is expected to mark a return in a bid to extend the hand of friendship.

In 2019, a sign was installed on a seat outside the town hall to indicate that those sitting on it were willing to make conversation with people they did not know.

It was conceived as a method of alleviating loneliness, and followed the examples of other towns across the UK that attempted to “break down invisible social barriers”.

By January 2020, the bench was to be made permanent, but the arrival of covid prevented that from happening.

Now, it will return to a yet-to-be-decided spot as loneliness continues to leave many isolated from the community.

Coun Nigel Yates was behind the original initiative in Biddulph. At a meeting of the town council’s Town and Community Committee last Tuesday, he said: “When we first put the sign up, it worked quite well.

“I am pleased that this has been brought back to us by a member of the public, because it shows that the bench was well received.

“It was getting to the stage where we were thinking about making it permanent and were deciding whether to use an existing bench or buy a new one, but then covid got in the way.

“Now we are discussing it again, I think that we should buy a new bench, rather than using a memorial bench. It has to go somewhere where there is a lot of traffic, because we want people to be attracted to have a chat.”

Coun John Jones agreed: “I think buying a new bench would be a better idea than using a memorial bench. Where we put it will be up for discussion.”

It was suggested that it could be installed in the garden to the left of the town hall, which would be spruced up in the process.

Coun Kevin Jackson mentioned comedian Ricky Gervais’ popular After Life television series, which follows a grieving man attempting to cope with his wife’s death.

One of the most popular scenes is when he sits on a graveyard bench near her headstone and has friendly chats with a woman mourning the loss of her husband. Last week, streaming platform Netflix, in partnership with mental health charity Calm, donated 25 benches to councils across the UK to coincide with the release of the black comedy’s third and final series.

In an effort to encourage people to seek mental health support, the benches feature a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone to access online resources.

Coun Jackson said: “I think it is a really nice idea, to sit there and have a chat. The Irish have a saying: there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.”

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