‘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

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Katharine Wootton

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

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