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Housing

Meet the bench curing loneliness and social isolation

The Friendly Bench provides a community garden hoping to help elderly mental health blossom

Benches have been the target of hostile designs for a number of years – but this one is hoping to tackle loneliness and social isolation.

The Friendly Bench, which was launched in Bottesford, Leicestershire, earlier this year by creator Lyndsey Young with help from Sir Alan Duncan MP, merges a lush community garden with a convenient seating place.

The project is designed to offer a meeting place for elderly people who are at risk of becoming isolated from their community with a place to meet others through friendship, events and activities organised by volunteers.

Far from the exclusion brought by the notorious Camden bench or examples like the one seen in Bournemouth in February, The Friendly Bench is aiming to give people with limited social mobility a place to rest as well as access to nature allowing a boost to their mental wellbeing and physical health.

Made with sustainable timber and decorated with plants and organic herbs, the first bench in creator Lyndsey’s hometown of Bottesford is being maintained by a team of two volunteers.

But she insists that the community is also pitching in with one elderly resident claiming that tending to the plants “gives him a reason to get out of bed”.

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Lyndsey, who began sketching out the Big Lottery-funded project around 2016 after suffering from loneliness while working from home, is now planning to take the project nationwide.

“The Friendly Bench plays a vital role in tackling loneliness amongst older people and those with restricted mobility in our communities,” she said.

“By creating an inclusive, accessible and well-located place to meet and join in with regularly organised activities, The Friendly Bench is a hub for people to connect. This not only helps improve our older people’s physical and mental wellbeing, it also helps develop and strengthen community connections and build relationships between residents and their wider community.”

As well as the backing of Rutland and Melton MP Sir Duncan, Rachel Reeves MP, co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness also brought up The Friendly Bench in her Westminster debate on loneliness.

And they are not the only ones who have taken an interest with up to 20 organisations, local authorities from across the UK getting in touch with Lyndsey to bring The Friendly Bench to their town – with plans afoot to bring a bespoke touch to each one.

“It became really apparent to me that the simple thing of installing a bench could really open a whole world for these people who have started to lose contact with their own community,” she adds.

“The idea is to merge the bench and the nature together for a small accessible meeting area for people to come to when they want to talk to people.”

The project also has the full support of the Nottingham Community Housing Association’s Sheltered Housing Scheme.

Manager Jim Anstey said: “I think The Friendly Bench is a great idea. It will encourage people to socialise with their neighbours and passers-by and become part of the local community.”

Main image: The Friendly Bench

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