When Elaine Pugh, Head of Patient and Family Services at Woodlands Hospice, took a stroll along New Brighton promenade one evening, she was struck by inspiration. Noticing the ‘Happy to Chat’ Benches placed along the prom by Wirral Council. The benches encourage users to sit there if they ‘don’t mind someone stopping to say hello’. Elaine loved the idea and wondered how the same principle could be applied at Woodlands Hospice and the idea of our Chatty Bench was born!
Elaine explained, “I thought the benches were a wonderful idea for people who may feel lonely or isolated and I knew it was something we could utilise within the hospice to help encourage conversation. Families, visitors and patients often take time out near the entrance to the hospice, looking for distraction or light relief. The installation of the Chatty Bench will not only give people a place to sit and rest but will provide opportunities for people to talk in a more natural way.”
Elaine also explained how the chatty bench will support the work of the Patient and Family Services Team, “We are here to listen and offer support. It can be difficult sometimes to know if someone is taking a private moment for themselves or if they’re happy to be approached and have a chat. The bench will help our staff and volunteers to know if someone is happy to be approached and give us the opportunity to lend a supportive ear in a less formal setting.”
With the idea in place, Elaine reached out for support with the project and Julie Lawson, BEM, stepped into the fold. Julie has been a huge supporter of the hospice for a number of years and was recently acknowledged in the Queen’s honours list and received a British Empire Medal for her charitable work. Julie was keen to do something for the hospice again in memory of family friend Stephen Knight and felt that the Chatty Bench project was the perfect cause to take on.
Julie raised a fantastic £1000 through an event in aid of the hospice, to fund the cost of the bench which is situated at the entrance to the hospice and features a bright, rainbow design and plaque to indicate that it is a safe space to come and have a chat if you need to talk or want some company.
The project has had a few setbacks along the way with the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting the bench opening on several occasions. However, Julie was delighted to be able to attend the hospice along with Cllr Claire Carragher, Mayor of Sefton, to officially open the bench in December 2021. Julie was also invited to place a commemorative leaf on the hospice’s tree of life in memory of her friend Stephen, who inspired Julie’s participation in the project, and acknowledgement of her fantastic fundraising efforts. Julie placed the leaf on the tree in an emotional tribute to her friend.
Sadly, since the official unveiling of the bench, the hospice has had to reintroduce restrictions within the hospice and limit visiting due to the current outbreak of the Omicron variant, however, Elaine is still confident that the Chatty Bench will be needed now more than ever.
“The visiting restrictions are difficult for everyone at the hospice, our patients and their family members. We of course, need to be as careful as possible but we hope that we can still use the chatty bench safely to offer support to those who wish to use it and need a friendly ear of support.”