The Friendly Bench™ CIC cheers on the National Lottery's 25th birthday celebrations
Leicestershire-based social enterprise, The Friendly Bench™ CIC, is cheering on the National Lottery’s 25th Birthday celebrations and would like to thank players again for the £242K National Lottery funding they have received earlier this year.
Over the last 25 years, The National Lottery has invested £1.1billion into bringing people together. This funding – raised by players of The National Lottery - has helped to transform community life across the UK,supporting the ideas and projects that matter to local people and their
communities, including The Friendly Bench™, a project founded and developed by Lyndsey Young.
When Lyndsey moved to a village in Leicestershire and started a family, she began experiencing the “heavy-hearted feeling” of loneliness. “It just crept in,” she says. “I had a new baby and no family or friends nearby. I was very active on social media because that was part of my job, but I found there were times when I didn’t speak to anyone face-to-face for several days.”
Experiencing loneliness again in later years, Lyndsey sought to reduce her sense of isolation by volunteering at The National Trust. Then she got a job with The Wildlife Trusts working on a project called Every Child Wild that sought to make nature part of growing up for all children. “I saw first-hand the benefits of connecting children and adults with nature,” she says. “And that’s where the concept of The Friendly Bench™ was born.”
The specially designed raised planters with integrated seating – a 5 x 3 metre piece of street furniture with seating for about 12 people – is an elegantly simple idea. It is designed to be a meeting place for anyone who chooses to use it and is also an active social space where regular events are held. People come to enjoy its built-in sensory garden, join in the activities, stay for a chat or a cup of tea.
“It’s a beautiful piece of street furniture, but it’s so much more than a bench,” says Lyndsey. “It’s a vibrant social space where communities come together and make friends.”
The first The Friendly Bench™ was installed in the village of Bottesford in 2018 with the help of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. It proved so successful that Lyndsey has formed a Community Interest Company (CIC) and is building a network of The Friendly Benches across the UK.
Since the National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November, 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.
More than 70 groups – churches, schools, voluntary organisations and community groups – have made inquiries about installing a Friendly Bench™ and Lyndsey is busy reviewing applications from every corner of the country. Using a £242,000 grant from The National Lottery’s Reaching Communities fund, she expects the network to expand to more than 20 locations across the country in the next two years.
“We’re head over heels about how it’s working. It’s far surpassing our expectations,” she says.
Each Friendly Bench – a second structure has been installed in Newbold Verdon, a village in Leicestershire – is open all hours and is wheelchair accessible. “People can use it whenever they want, but every month there are events held at The Friendly Bench™,” says Lyndsey. “Last month, for example, Bottesford The Friendly Bench™ are hosted a NAAFI break and reaching out to ex-military families. Bottesford The Friendly Bench™ also run events where primary school children work with older residents on the garden. The Friendly Bench™ give people reasons to come together, excuses to turn up and have a conversation.”
That opportunity for a chat can be all it takes to dispel loneliness. “People know that as soon as you sit there [on The Friendly Bench™] you’re open to a conversation,” says Lyndsey. “Even if it’s just a couple of minutes it can be enough to bring you out of that feeling that no one cares.”