Sheffield's second Talking Bench aimed at tackling loneliness opens at city park

A loneliness organisation opened Sheffield’s second talking bench in a local park during a celebration event to get locals talking.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 2:31 pm
The 'happy to Talk' bench in Graves Park. Picture Scott Merrylees

There is an invisible pandemic in Sheffield and across the country – a pandemic of loneliness.

It is estimated that 20 million people nationally experience loneliness, which can be terrible for physical and mental health.

Age Better in Sheffield, an organisation combating loneliness in the city opened a Talking Bench at Graves Park this week in an effort to encourage locals meet and chat.

Graves Park in Sheffield

The event ran over several hours and included a whole range of wellness activities as well as the official unveiling of the bench, which is Sheffield’s second of its kind, at the main fish pond in the park.

A ‘Talking Bench’ is a designated spot where people can sit, enjoy the view, and open themselves up for a chat with friends or with strangers.

Edyta Bancer, Programme Manager for Age Better in Sheffield, said: “We knew we had a high percentage of people in Sheffield who struggle with loneliness.

"Quite often people feel emotionally lonely even when they are surrounded by people. With Talking Bench, you can invite someone to make conversation with you.”

“We can’t wait for the many conversations that will take place in front of the beautiful pond in Graves Park.

"We know that the impact of the pandemic is still very much influencing people’s experiences of loneliness and isolation.

"We will be leaving the bench in the park and hoping to leave people equipped in how to have a conversation and helping over 50s to feel less lonely.”

Sheffield was the first city in the UK to launch a Talking Bench, with the Winter Gardens revealing theirs in 2017 in response to a growing awareness of the scale of loneliness across the UK.

Age Better in Sheffield hope that their new talking bench, delivered in partnership with Lai Yin Association, will provide an opportunity for interactions and community spirit to foster amongst Sheffield residents, and will act as a symbol of re-connection after the impact of Covid-19.

The organisation also partnered with a host of individuals and organisations across Sheffield who provided a variety of age-friendly activities across the day.

Charlie Armitage, who became known for Dancing in Driveways – where she was able to lead 20 minute driveway dance lessons for those on her street – led a dance session.

Mindfulness sessions were held as well, helping people to relax through meditation and other methods.

Conversations that connect workshops were held by Sophie Stephenson from the Thinking Project – she gave informal training on how to listen and have meaningful conversations.

Cycle rides on Rhubarb and Ginger, Cycling Without Age’s much-loved trikes also took place around the park throughout the event.

There are many causes of loneliness, but it is particularly common in older members of the population.

Edyta said: “There may be reasons from a person’s past, or circumstances in their life have changed, such as losing a loved one. From extensive research we have done, when people had significant changes - their kids moving out or they retire - they experience a loss of identity.”

Age Better in Sheffield is a National Lottery Funded initiative founded in 2015 which works to improve the lives of people aged 50 and over by addressing loneliness and developing creative ways for people to become actively involved in their local communities.

From Burngreave to Firth Park, and Woodhouse to Beauchief and Greenhill, over 2,000 people across the city have been involved in projects focusing on therapeutic interventions, financial inclusion, creative engagement, confidence with transport, innovative start-up groups, and dealing with life after the loss of loved one.

Edyta added: “We make sure the projects we offer are the projects people are telling us they need, not what we think they need.

“We also did the best we can to engage with Sheffield Council to show how small changes can make a difference.”

Age Better in Sheffield is one of 14 projects nationally funded by the national lottery to combat loneliness.

It is made up of a combination of professional staff who are employed but also works with a number of charities like Sheffield Mind and community organisations.

A number of the projects are led by volunteers who are over 50 themselves. Edyta believes this is important as it gives those who need it a mentor who they can relate to.

Edyta explained that the project has been a success in Sheffield. She said: “There are a number of case studies of many individuals we know who have made big improvements.

"One man, Stuart, moved from being a beneficiary of the programme to a volunteer with us – that is a fantastic story.”

The programme was funded for six years but following the disruption of the pandemic was granted an extra year to focus on securing a legacy in Sheffield.

The team are working to build on Sheffield’s status as an Age-friendly City to ensure that everyone can happily grow up, and grow older, in the city.

The project will come to an end in March 2022.