***NEWS UPDATE*** The Friendly Bench™ project has received unanimous support from my local council, so it’s all systems go! More updates will follow
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.