‘It’s good to talk’ – chat to beat loneliness
Meet the mum who is on a mission to bring people of all ages together for a natter through a nationwide network of Chatty Cafés
Alex Hoskyn’s son was just a few months old when she found herself in a supermarket café feeling isolated. Having been to all her mother and baby groups for the week, she’d been aimlessly wandering around town, filling in the time before her partner came home from work when she could have some adult interaction again. While she adored being a new mum, she found herself craving a bit of grown-up conversation and was saddened to see, sitting in Sainsbury’s café, that there were other people looking just as fed up.
Alex says: “There was an older lady on her own at one table and a man with his carer sitting silently at another and we all looked miserable. While I wasn’t confident enough to approach either of them to chat, it got me thinking that it would be nice if there was perhaps a table in the café that was specifically for people who want a chat with others, where I could have got talking to this older lady and the man and his carer.”
After leaving the idea for a year, it was the encouragement of her mum that made Alex finally decide to do something about this brainwave she’d had and so she set about creating the Chatty Café scheme.
Having started off approaching just a handful of cafés in her local town of Oldham near Manchester, today Alex’s Chatty Café scheme runs in 540 venues around the UK, in independent cafés, a few pubs and community centres and more than 300 Costa Coffee outlets that have signed up to the project.
How it works is that every participating venue pays £10 to be part of the scheme which obliges it to dedicate at least one ‘chatter and natter table’ to customers who want to talk to each other. Posters in the window and signs at the table advertise what the scheme is, and the fact that anyone can participate.
Alex says: “The idea is not that it’s a group that meets regularly every week – there’s no commitment required from the people who come. It’s just for anyone who, on the day, happens to fancy a bit of company and is open to conversation.
“The scheme is available to anyone, whether you’re on your own, in a couple, young or old, with a baby, with a disability, a carer or someone being cared for, whoever you are. As a social care worker for people with disabilities, I’ve often found there’s a lot out there for different groups but what I want to do is mix it up and encourage different people to get together, as many people have told me this is what they get enjoyment from.”
Alex adds: “What I’ve found, too, is that while people who are lonely or isolated might not want to go to a dedicated group, they probably are going to cafés anyway just to break up their day and this is a great way of helping them without asking them to
‘While people who are lonely or isolated might not want to go to a dedicated group, they probably are going to cafés‘
commit or do anything that is intimidating.
“I just based the ethos of the scheme on what I felt I really needed that time in the supermarket café as a new mum. I didn’t want any particular commitment, I didn’t necessarily want new friends or a group of people I could sit with every week at the same time. I just wanted a bit of human interaction from time to time.”
So far the chatter and natter tables have prompted lots of interest in the cafés they’re placed in and the venues hosting the scheme have been really proud to take part. “I’ve found the fact the cafés pay a small fee to be part of it means they really take it seriously and want to promote and celebrate it,” says Alex.
She’s also received some wonderful feedback from people who’ve benefited from the scheme, saying it’s helped them meet other local people, beat feelings of isolation, or just made their day when they’ve got chatting to someone new when they popped in for a coffee.
Some people who’ve enjoyed the scheme have even started taking it upon themselves to spread the word about Chatty Cafés as ambassadors in their area.
“I’ve had several people contact me asking if they can spread the idea to other cafés in their town or city, which is great. One lady who said this, explained that she’d recently lost her father-in-law and so would go to the café at the same time every week as she used to visit her father-inlaw and it was her way of helping herself and other people.
“What I’d really like now is for the Chatty Café scheme to become something of a movement and part of UK café culture, so that when you walk into any café, it’s completely normal to have a table where you can just sit down and chat to anyone who’s there.”
alex’s idea of chatter and natter tables in cafés has spread throughout the uk