Chatty Benches helping tackle loneliness

Chatty Benches helping tackle loneliness

Health Minister Robin Swann recently visited the Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ballymoney to launch a key new initiative focusing on preventing and addressing loneliness within the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) area.

Loneliness is a growing public health issue across all generations and the current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.  Loneliness is not the same as being alone; you may choose to be alone or find this experience unsatisfying. Equally, you may have many social contacts but still feel lonely.

Loneliness is a subjective emotion linked to the quality of relationships, not the quantity.

Statistics within a 2020 report by the Campaign to End Loneliness and the Action Group on Loneliness Policy in Northern Ireland indicate that 1 in 3 people in Northern Ireland are ‘more often lonely’ while 1 in 20 people are chronically lonely. Chronic or consistent loneliness can be damaging to our physical and mental health comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, obesity and other health conditions as outlined by Holt-Lunstad (2015). The effects of loneliness also impact the numbers of people presenting to their GP, which can in turn place pressure on public services.

With this in mind, the Northern Trust launched three new Chatty Benches, at the Robinson Hospital.  The Chatty Benches, included within an impressive new pergola feature, are designed to tackle loneliness and provide a place where people can chat and connect with each other. This in turn helps support positive mental health and wellbeing.  The Northern Area Loneliness Framework was previously developed as part of the Trust’s focus on preventing and addressing loneliness. It is a useful approach to promote action on loneliness and in so doing helps build stronger connections within our communities.

Minister for Health Robin Swann said: “I’m very pleased to be here today at the Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ballymoney to launch the Chatty Benches. This is a fine example of some of the innovative work being taken forward by the Northern Trust to help address loneliness. Going forward, the recently launched NHSCT Loneliness Framework (December, 2021) will provide the drive and impetus to continue this important work.”

In addition Bob McCann, Northern Trust Chairman said, “This important initiative launched today illustrates the Northern Trust’s commitment to tackling loneliness at a local and strategic level. The loneliness framework will provide direction to the work we are currently doing addressing loneliness within the Trust and building on the good work already done. The three new Chatty Benches situated within a wonderful new pergola feature will encourage people to connect, reflect and chat to others.

Yvonne Carson, Lead for Loneliness and Social Isolation, Northern Trust, also commented, “It’s great to see the establishment of these Chatty Benches, the first within Northern Trust facilities. At a time when we see so many restrictions on our social activities, it’s good that this initiative promotes interaction and conversation.  I’m very pleased we now have a Loneliness Framework to help guide our work in the Northern Area.”

Bamber McKay, Estates Manager, Northern Trust, who led on the installation of the Chatty Benches and pergola added, “We’re delighted to launch these chatty benches and Pergola feature at the Robinson Hospital today. The benches will provide an opportunity for people to sit and chat and are a welcome addition to the Robinson Hospital site. We plan to facilitate more benches at other Northern Trust sites in Causeway in the near future.”

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