I often bring up the topic of ‘happy to talk benches’ and I want to explain why they are important to me.
The idea of ‘happy to talk benches’ is that they help combat loneliness by making people feel welcome to talk to strangers in public places.
Loneliness is an important topic for me because my autism can make it harder for me to form connections with other people. I tend to talk about a specific range of subjects and bring up the same things repeatedly and this can make people not want to interact with me.
Also, when I go out I sometimes don’t know how to join in group conversations and so often I stand about looking tense. Then I worry that people think I’m hovering over them and coming across as creepy.
The busier the places are, the lonelier I get. Everyone is rushing around and it seems like no one will notice I’m there.
When I go to protests, for example, I feel really lonely, especially when I go on my own. I feel it’s really hard to speak to people at demonstrations.
I also feel that at the beginning of events people are less likely to talk but people are more sociable as time goes by.
I know I’m not the only disabled person who’s affected by loneliness. Figures show that disabled people are four times more likely to feel lonely all the time or often than non-disabled.
Your age also matters. Generation Z people feel more lonely than other groups. Your gender, health, marriage status, income and family status and employment status all also affect how lonely you are.
So with all those lonely people out there, I felt it was important to do something about it. I wasn’t just going to sit down and do nothing.
When I saw an online article on the BBC news about how ‘happy to talk benches’ can tackle loneliness, I decided I would try to promote them in Camden.
I spoke to the Camden Parks team and they agreed to put up signs on benches inviting people to sit and have a chat. So far, these signs have been put up on benches in Chalcot Square and Belsize Village.
Camden Parks Manager Gabi Howard has worked with me on this project and I asked her for a comment for this story. She said: “Oliver has a really good approach and we are happy to keep working with him to launch such benches and publicise the project, linking him with park friends groups and other organisations near our parks. “
Gabi added: “Over the last few years we’ve been working on a project called Parks for Health which is all about helping more people to use and enjoy Camden’s parks to help boost their health and well-being.”
I feel positive and proud about what I’ve achieved so far. I hope to keep going. We are considering putting the next ‘happy to talk bench’ in Kilburn Grange Park.
Check out this Guardian story on happy to talk benches in Sweden