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The University of Southampton

Time to talk – Southampton's new benches want to chat

Published: 1 February 2024
Dr Zehor Belkhatir
Dr Zehor Belkhatir

Bright red and white benches are being installed across Southampton to get students and residents talking.

The park seats are part of an initiative to combat social isolation in the city and have been unveiled for Time to Talk day.

Plans for the talking benches were spearheaded by academics from the University of Southampton, which funded the project, together with nearby community groups.

Lecturer Dr Zehor Belkhatir , part of the team behind the initiative, said: “The pandemic revealed that people are more socially isolated and lonely than ever before, which has such a profound impact on mental health and wellbeing.

“These talking benches are a great and unique initiative and provide a safe environment for people to break down social barriers, meet others and get our city talking to each other.

“I believe collaboration between people of different backgrounds with varied expertise is key in the success of any project which we undertake – and this has also been crucial to driving the talking benches initiative forward.”

The University collaborated with the Saints Foundation and groups So:Linked and Friends of St James’ Park for the talking benches.

They were funded by the effective partnered practice project, which is a collaboration between the Centre for Higher Education Practice (CHEP) and Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) at the University.

The first bench were unveiled on Thursday to mark the start of the national Time to Talk day, which aims to get people talking openly about mental health.

Paul Hedges from the Saints Foundation said: “The beauty of this initiative is that it came from a conversation. People can use the benches for whatever – just to meet or to start a walk – and they are a real focal point for our city.”

Joseph Jenness from So:Linked added: “These benches are made for talking – and it was thanks to the collaboration between our group that made this happen. Hopefully they can be the start of getting people in Southampton to talk.”

So far, three new benches have been installed at in St James’ Park in Shirley, Riverside Park in Bitterne, and the Miller’s Pond conservation area in Sholing.

Each includes a QR code that links to a webpage that allows people to leave comments and feedback on the spaces.

Southampton’s Lord Mayor Cllr Valerie Laurent , who unveiled one of the benches in Shirley, said: “You can come to a city and be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. This initiative is fabulous and will help start conversations that might just make someone’s day.”

Sue Kinch from Friends of St James’ Park added: “Today is about shining a light on the project to get people talking – and we are also hoping to install more seats across the region soon.”

Read more about the talking benches at .

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