Tackling the lonely edpidemic

By Danielle Galvin

In 2017, British mum and social worker Alex Hoskyn was feeling blue as she sat in a cafe with her four-month-old son.

It had been ‘one of those days’.

As she looked around the cafe, she was struck by what she was seeing around her.

She could tell that she wasn’t the only person feeling lonely that day, and she thought how incredible it would be to be able somehow to bring people together for a friendly chat. And how that might brighten up their day.

She realised how isolating it can be to go a full day without much human interaction.

That’s where the idea came from for the Chatty Cafe scheme, and now the UK has over 1500 Chatty Cafe venues signed up to the Scheme to have Chatty Tables for customers to sit who are happy to chat to other customers.

Now the idea is happening across Melbourne, and in regional Victoria too.

Managing director of the Chatty Cafe Scheme Australia, Glenys Reid, explained more.

“The concept of chatty cafe is to build social connections and to assist in reducing social isolation and loneliness,” she said.

Venues, such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, community centres, aged-care residences and others sign up for $20 a year, and for this they’re provided promotional material to set up a ‘Have a Chat’ table and social media exposure.

Initially, if they choose, the venue can have access to a Chatty Volunteer to introduce the concept and facilitate the chat, so that anyone in the community can be involved.

Some cafes have a designated ‘Have a Chat’ table all day, every day, whereas other venues run sessions at particular days and times.

After 2020 and Covid-19, it’s a concept that seems more important than ever.

“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that now most people have experienced some form of social isolation,” Ms Reid explained.

“And as a result of that, potentially people are a bit more compassionate for the percentage of people out in the community of all demographics, of all ages, who are socially isolated.

“The research shows one in four people a week feel quite isolated.”

She said loneliness is a national dilemma, but something this simple concept of bringing people together for a friendly respectful chat, can be hugely powerful.

“The venues, once they see how it’s working, get quite excited about what they are doing and being recognised as having a a community focus for their customers,” Ms Reid said.

“Our broad mission is that people start to talk about Chatty Cafes and go into a venue and expect that a venue would have some sort of Chatty table option.”

To find out more visit https://chattycafeaustralia.org.au/ where venues can sign up to the scheme, volunteers can submit an EOI or customers can find a venue nearby with a Chatty Table.