An innovative community garden designed to overcome loneliness, social isolation and improve the quality of life amongst the elderly is capturing the imagination of community groups, care homes and politicians across the UK since it’s launch earlier in the year.
Created and founded by Lyndsey Young, supported by the Big Lottery Fund and launched in Bottesford, Leicestershire by Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP, The Friendly Bench™ is a purposefully designed and located kerbside community garden created to help tackle loneliness, social isolation and improve the quality of life for the elderly, socially isolated and those with limited mobility by connecting them with people, places and with nature.
Connecting people – Offering regular opportunities for social interaction, growing and strengthening social networks and improving well-being amongst older people and the wider community through friendship, events and activities organised by The Friendly Bench™ volunteers.
Connecting places – Purposefully designed and situated, The Friendly Bench™ provides a convenient and comfortable place for those with limited mobility to rest, helping them to connect with local services and public places, whilst also encouraging independence and opportunities for residents to participate in their wider communities as they choose.
Connecting with nature – Enabling easy accessible interactions with nature, wildlife and the outdoors to improve users physical health, mental wellbeing, social behaviour and help improve self- esteem and life satisfaction.
A welcoming place for all to meet, chat, rest and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, The Friendly Bench is so much more than a bench and has been carefully designed to create a safe, easily accessible garden for the elderly and those with limited mobility to enjoy. Made with sustainable FSC timber, including solid oak, the seating has been purposely designed to adhere to DDA Guidance and is configured with easy access raised planters, complete with plants and organic herbs, to enable intergenerational garden maintenance, whilst providing a ‘self-contained’ environment which promotes conversation, connection and independence.
“The Friendly Bench is a really fantastic and innovative project which I am confident will help combat loneliness in our local community.” Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP
With plans to extend the project nationwide, Lyndsey Young said:
“The Friendly Bench™ plays a vital role in tackling loneliness amongst older people and those with restricted mobility in our communities.
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.
With the full backing of Sir Alan Duncan MP and also Rachel Reeves MP, co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, who recently mentioned The Friendly Bench™ in her Westminster Hall debate on loneliness, The Friendly Bench also has the full support of it’s local Nottingham Community Housing Association’s Sheltered Housing Scheme.
Scheme Manager Jim Anstey comments: “Some of our residents have been put off going to the shops due to the distance. The bench will give them the confidence to venture out, using it as a pit stop along the way! 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.
After successfully developing and launching the first The Friendly Bench model, the aim now is to partner with other communities and grow The Friendly Bench network. Offering a full design, build installation, training to support set up and operation package, as well as funding solutions and advice, Lyndsey and her team would work closely with each community to develop The Friendly Bench to cater for their bespoke needs.
To find out more about The Friendly Bench™ and to find out how you can join The Friendly Bench™ network, please visit their Facebook page Facebook.com/TheFriendlyBench
or follow on Twitter @Friendly_Bench and Instagram: @TheFriendlyBench
Here’s how the story all began …
I read a statistic some time ago that really surprised and shocked me, in fact it did more than shock me, it made me stop and ask myself if there was anything I could do to help change it. That statistic was,
‘The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking.’ (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
Of course, I would continue to visit my elderly mother-in-law and take her shopping, I could also continue to go with my singing group to the rest home where we perform, but I really wanted to do more. That’s when the idea struck me.
Inspired by the brilliant community project, The Edible Bus Stop and a really cute idea my children’s primary school has, The Buddy Bench (a bench where children sit if they want a friend to play with), I came up with the idea of The Friendly Bench™.
What is The Friendly Bench™?
The Friendly Bench™ is a small accessible community garden, with seating, located in easy walking distance of elderly community residents, to provide regular friendship in an outdoor environment, which positively contributes to the quality of their life.
Why start The Friendly Bench™?
There are a number of elderly residents in my locality who are becoming increasingly isolated from the community due to their limited mobility. Only able to walk a few yards before they need to sit down, they are choosing to stay at home rather than go into the village and are subsequently losing contact with friends and the wider community, which is having a negative impact on their wellbeing and quality of life.
‘Two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company.’ (Age UK, 2014)
With The Friendly Bench™, I hope to create a volunteer-run community garden on the small piece amenity land which is within easy walking distance of many elderly residents and is ideally situated as a welcome rest spot for those with limited mobility who wish to walk to the village shops.
As well as providing a convenient rest spot, The Friendly Bench™ would also be an inclusive, supportive and accessible outdoor community space where elderly residents living in isolation and those with restricted mobility would enjoy regular, ongoing friendship with volunteers, neighbours, friends and the wider community.
‘Social isolation affects about 1 million older people and has a severe impact on people’s quality of life in older age.’ (Loneliness and Isolation Evidence Review, AgeUK, 2015)
The Friendly Bench™ would also provide health, educational and environmental benefits to participants and the community as a whole.
The Friendly Bench™ would:
- offer a regular, supportive social space for participants to build self-confidence, independence and improve their mental well-being.
- encourage physical activity for participants.
- strengthen social networks amongst neighbours and the wider community.
- encourage participants to get outdoors and connect with nature more regularly.
- positively benefit the local environment by encouraging a sense of community and stewardship.
- provide a place for people of diverse backgrounds to regularly interact, share and acquire knowledge and skills relating to gardening, health and culture.
That’s the plan. So how am I getting on? Well, firstly I have consulted with local residents and am thrilled to say that they were incredibly positive and supportive of the project. Next up, my Parish Council and County Highways Dept, again I’m pleased to say the reaction has been positive to date and I am currently awaiting the official response to their vote. Fingers crossed.
So, hoping that this will be positive, I will begin the process of getting this project off the ground, that means recruiting volunteers, sourcing funding, planning the space etc. It’s going to be a lot of work, but when lovely people like Betty tell me that they can no longer walk to the village Post Office, because she gets too tired, I know it’s going to be worth it.
I’ll keep posting updates on my progress and share how I am getting in. In the meantime, if you’ve any suggestions or have done something similar, it’d be brilliant to hear from you.