Loneliness affects nine million people in the UK saying they are often or always lonely. Another disheartening statistic reveals that 500,000 people in the UK go without a single conversation each month.
The numbers from the British Red Cross were confessed by Harborough MP Neil O'Brien OBE, at a meeting last month with Alexandra Hoskyn (34) who has come up with a ‘cant-believe-we-didn’t-think-of-it-before’ idea to combat the statistics.
The social worker for children with additional needs traveled from her home town in Oldham, Manchester to meet with the MP in Zeph’s café in Oadby. She uses her spare time to spread the word about her campaign, The Chatty Café Scheme, which asks cafés to dedicate one or two tables to ‘Chatter & Natter’ tables.
Over 170 organisations across the country have taken the scheme on. In each, there will be a dedicated Chatter & Natter table clearly signposted meaning that anyone who chooses to sit there is open to having a conversation.
The movement is all about having social exchanges with other adults. The idea is not to enforce relationships with others, or sign people up to a commitment, but just for adults from all walks of life to be able to chat if they're feeling lonely.
Alex explained how she came up with the idea during her maternity leave after having her son Henry in 2016: “I was fed up of having no adult interaction so I would go on café trips with Henry. In one café I saw an elderly lady looking lonely and a young man with additional needs who looked lonely. If we could have sat together we’d have all left a lot brighter that day.”
Neil is keen to get behind the scheme, he said: “One of my main priorities is loneliness. [The statistics] bring home the scale of the growing problem in an ageing society.”
Alex believes feeling a part of society is very important and whilst there are many pockets of society that are catered for with groups and events, it’s very hard for lonely people to involve themselves.
Zeph’s café, where the meeting was held, was the first establishment in Leicester to dedicate a table to the Chatter Natter campaign.
Also involved in the gathering was local Councillor Anne Bond who supports the initiative and said: “Social media is all very well, but people need a physical place to meet together.”
Rev. Dave Warnock, Minister of Oadby Trinity Methodist Church, comes across many cases of loneliness in his pastoral ministry and said that the café was “tackling a negative problem from a positive angle.”
For more information visit The Chatty Café Scheme.