Lonely people in Blackpool now have a place to go following the introduction of a ‘chatty bench’ in Dickson Road.
The idea for the bench, which will be placed in the grounds of St Paul’s Medical Practice, came from a group of local residents keen to tackle loneliness and isolation in the area.
The brightly coloured bench is the first of its kind in the town and is designed to be a place for people who are feeling lonely to go and sit, where they will be joined by members of the group. The group of community spirited residents has also undertaken training to help them when talking to people who may be depressed.
Christine Wright from the group said: “We are all really passionate about improving mental health. We live in an area that has a lot of people living here who are depressed and many of us know someone who has suffered with mental health issues.
“We want people to know they have someone to talk to and want the bench to be a place they can go when they are feeling a bit low and someone will go and check on them. We also want other community groups to do something similar so this will spread across the whole town.”
Blackpool has been named as the most deprived town in the country and is recognised as an area that has a lot of issues with mental health.
Roy Fisher, chair of NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group, the organisation that plans and buys health services in the town, said: “We have been working hard to improve mental health services but we can’t do everything. It is really amazing that this group has worked with us to do something that is so simple but would be impossible for us to do ourselves.”
Dr Colin Scott, of St Paul’s Medical Centre, said: “We are honoured to be able to host the bench and hope that it is well used. As a GP we often see people in appointments who tell us we are the first person they have spoken to all week. It is very sad that people are so isolated but it shows something as simple as stopping and saying hello to someone can make the world of difference to them.
“I hope the community uses the bench and it helps people to get used to being more sociable and saying ‘hello’ to people and asking how they are.”
The bench was provided by Blackpool Council and has been renovated by the group.
Cllr Lynn Williams, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member responsible for Health and Adults, said: “It is wonderful to see Blackpool put in place its very first ‘Chatty Bench’ in Claremont.
“This is a wonderful initiative that will help reduce social isolation. It is particularly lovely that it was local residents in Claremont who came together through the Blackpool Residents Inquiry Group (BRIC) that recommended introducing the bench as a way of helping people in the community.
“I would like to thank all the residents, partners and organisations such as St Paul’s Medical Centre who are hosting the bench that have helped make this project happen so that we can offer people a place to talk to someone else.”
The bench was officially opened by Cllr Amy Cross, Mayor of Blackpool on Wednesday 9 October, just in time for World Mental Health Day on Thursday 10 October.
The residents are part of the Blackpool resident’s inquiry (Claremont) group (BRIC), which was brought together by Blackpool Council’s Public Health team and NHS Blackpool CCG to talk about what needs to change in order to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in the area.
Members of the group, who will spend time sitting on the bench to offer a listening ear and a bit of conversation to anyone who wants to have a chat, have undergone training to help them support people suffering from mental illness and to enable them to better understand what people may be going through.
Among the 36 recommendations the group presented following a 10-week process the most pressing issue was that of loneliness and the mental health conditions it is linked to.
The group would like to be involved in creating more of the benches around the town so if you would be interested in setting one up in your area get in touch with the group by emailing Davinia.firstname.lastname@example.org.