‘Happy Benches’ encourage people to sit down and chat with strangers. On each bench is a clear sign-post that by sitting on the bench you don’t mind a stranger coming to say hello. Upon closing this project, we wanted to reflect on our journey and lessons along the way…
How it started;
Finding inspiration from exisiting Happy Bench projects and being alarmed by the shocking statistics around the damaging effects of social isolation, our hub decided to set up our own Happy Benches project.
The aim of our project was to set up 5 Happy Benches in Manchester, work with Manchester City Council and local business to try to build a network of support for maintaining the benches and promote the benches on our social media channels.
How it went…
We sucessfully set up 5 Happy Benches across Manchester by creating laminated signs to indentify each bench and received some great engagment on our social media channels about the benches, culminating in an interview with ITV New Granada.
What we Learnt…
As the benches were public, the signs were often went missing, meaning that we would have to create a new sign to replace it. This proved to be unsustainable in the long run and lead us to consider taking the benches online (through our social media channels). Due to capacity issues, our hub decided we would not be able to maiantain these additional online channels. We saw great potential in working with local stakeholders to build the network of beneches and online channels, but did not want to start this process when we would not be able to finish it.
Therefore, we learnt about the demand for local social isolation projects and the potential of taking the conversation online. This is a highly recommended project for any group looking to tackle social isolation, feel free to contact us discuss how you could carry on this project!
Our Happy Bench Team
Aitana Uclés Fuensanta
Stats on Social Isolation in Manchester…
Loneliness and social isolation can have an impact on memory, mental and physical health. 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England (Campaign to end lonliness). This equates to an estimate of 1.3 million people in Greater Manchester alone.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made it harder to be with others. Contact with family and friends continues to be limited, and social and leisure activities are restricted, which can cause feelings of loneliness – particularly if you are staying at home.
Most people spend part of every day surrounded by strangers, whether on their daily commute, sitting in a park or cafe, or visiting the supermarket. Yet many of us remain in self-imposed isolation, believing that reaching out to a stranger would make you both feel uncomfortable. These beliefs may be unwarranted. In fact, research suggests that we often underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others for both our own and others’ wellbeing.
‘Happy Benches’ encourage people to sit down and chat with strangers. On each bench is a clear sign-post that by sitting on the bench you don’t mind a stranger coming to say hello.
Humans are inherently social animals, who are made happier and healthier when connected to others. Feeling isolated and lonely, in contrast, is a stress factor that poses a health risk comparable to smoking and obesity.