Stirling City Radio community station has launched a bid to get people talking and tackle loneliness across Stirlingshire.
The ‘Happy to chat’ campaign will see cafes, restaurants and bars across the area encouraged to invite customers to take a ‘Happy to chat’ card to pop on their table if they are happy to be joined by someone for a chat.
The card also contains signposting to local organisations and groups where people can find opportunities to connect with other people.
The aim is to get people talking again once lockdown restrictions ease, with a hope it will help tackle wide-spread loneliness, which has affected all ages during the pandemic.
Katy Whitelaw, a trustee of Stirling Community Media, the charity that runs Stirling City Radio, explained:
“Stirling City Radio is a hub of communicating and connecting, so we wanted to help encourage people to connect with others once the pandemic restrictions begin to ease. It has been a really tough year. Repeated lockdowns have left many experiencing extreme loneliness and isolation. The ripple effect that can have on physical and mental health can be huge.
A British Red cross survey reported that two in five people said they do not think their feelings of loneliness will go away after the coronavirus crisis is over. And two out of three UK adults are concerned about being able to connect with people in person the way they used to. We hope this will go a small way to encouraging people to start a chat with a stranger. Even a small exchange with someone for a few minutes could make their day – and yours.”
Organisations and businesses sponsoring the campaign to get it off the ground include: Go Forth Stirling, Creative Stirling, Jacki Hamilton Photography, Ginger Roots, Judy Jam Jar Mosaics and Bonnie Bits and Bobs.
The initiative has also been officially backed by UK organisation the Campaign to end Loneliness. Campaign Director, Robin Hewings, said:
“We believe that people of all ages need connections that matter. The pandemic has led to millions of lonely people in the UK feeling isolated and lonely and lacking the friendship and support we all need. Our vision is that everyone can live a life free from chronic loneliness. We inspire everyone to connect and bring communities together across the UK and are delighted to see this campaign being launched at a community level.”
Go Forth Stirling, Project Director, Danielle McRorie-Smith said: “The last few months have brought loneliness to the forefront of our minds. We all have a role in being kind and looking out for each other. As some of us begin to regain some normality and visit the many wonderful businesses Stirling has to offer, it’s more important than ever to connect with people and show empathy and give a few moments, particularly during these difficult and sometimes isolating times. Go Forth is delighted to endorse this initiative and is encouraged by the participation of our business community.
Our new project, Street Stories, features artwork from Lou Carberry representing the journey of people in Stirling reaching out for help with mental health. By highlighting the plight of many throughout this unprecedented time, through art and, encouraging the Happy to Chat campaign… we hope that anyone struggling or feeling lonely in Stirling will know that the community is here to help, and no one should struggle in silence.”
Creative Stirling Director, Joe Hall, said: “Our creative hub enabled many amazing people who worked to support our community through the pandemic. We have seen the impact of lockdown on our networks of residents, neighbours, friends, and families across Stirling communities.
How we reconnect will be key to how we recover, as individuals and as a society, and we are wholly in support of simple yet brilliant initiatives like ‘Happy to Chat’ that will put us on track to be a happier and kinder place for the many who have and will continue to struggle through the crisis.”
Ginger Roots, a green-grocers, has added to the ‘Happy to chat’ initiative by adding a ‘bag o’ blether’ in each box they sell. The bag will have a question inside such as “what are you looking forward to when we are out of lockdown?” Customers will then be encouraged to bring it back into the shop and share their answers with staff.
Ginger Roots Manager, Mark Ritchie explained: “I’m supporting the campaign as I have witnessed the importance of people being able to chat and have a blether within my shop. I get great inspiration from speaking to customers. You find out about them and their lives – everyone has a story to be told.”
Jacki Hamilton of Jacki Hamilton Photography and Manager of Bonnie Bits and Bobs, said: “After a year of lockdowns and unprecedented restrictions on human contact and connectivity, loneliness has become a harsh reality for many, so it’s great to see that this project being set up.
This past year has had a considerable impact on people’s life, well-being and happiness. I feel that we all possess the ability to make a difference to someone’s life everyday should we choose to. Anything we can do no matter how small – as friends, family, and as a community as a whole – to help people reconnect is a positive step.”
Artist Judy Reed, of Judy Jam Jar Mosaics, felt driven to donate to sponsor the campaign after lived experience of feeling lonely during lockdown.
She added: “I work at home and live alone with my dog. I talk to her and we go out for walks. It’s how I meet people and will often stop for a chat. It starts with a simple hello and a smile, but it’s my vital link to others. I am delighted to support the campaign and hope it will help people.”
The campaign launched at the Hemp Room Café, one of the venues backing the initiative. Manager Claire Watson, said: “We are giving our full backing to ‘Happy to chat’ – it’s a brilliant initiative to get people chatting. The Hemp Room ethos is all about healing, love and connecting so it sits perfectly with what we are about and want to achieve. Loneliness has been a huge issue for so many people this year. We provide a welcoming environment where people will feel comfortable to come and have a friendly chat. We look forward to this initiative sparking some conversations.”
Any hospitality venues interested in taking part can get in touch via Facebook @HappyToChatStirling