Fight the “loneliness epidemic” with a coffee and a cat

The traditional reserve is said to make it almost impossible for the British to speak to strangers in public places. However, a program, started three years ago by a young British mother struggling to cope with her sense of loneliness, is coming to a cafe near you – and the project has profound implications for young and old alike. .

Alexandra Hoskyn was 33 when she created the Chatty Coffee Program in 2016. Her son, Henry, was four months old. She felt alone, cut off from the company of adults. But as she was walking around the city center one day, an idea occurred to her.

“I was pushing a stroller alone in Oldham,” she said. While stopping at the local cafes, she was struck by the fact that so many people were sitting alone.

“I noticed older people, caregivers with their caregiver and people with babies and thought it would be good if they could meet,” she says.

The organization she has set up encourages cafes to set aside a “Chat and Chat” table where customers can sit if they are happy to chat with others. In three years it has grown to over 1,000 cafes across the UK, and after winning a major award last month, it is expected to expand further.

Chatty Café tables are identifiable by their A4 plastic table panels – like menu stands. They encourage customers to reach out to strangers, knowing they won’t be turned away. Those who want to be alone can sit at other tables.

“A lot of people are afraid to make contact without encouragement,” Ms. Hoskyn said. “They know that Brits are often reserved and can also worry that only one person at a table is waiting for someone.”

Ms Hoskyn, a part-time social worker working with adults with learning disabilities, says: “If you feel lonely then you are vulnerable to poor physical and mental health and low self-esteem. The positive impact that chatting with another person can have on a person’s mood is huge.

“This program is all about mixing everything up and providing a designated table where people can sit if they feel like company with their coffee. They might want it one day, but not the next. It becomes part of everyday cafe culture.

Ms Hoskyn’s idea has now been adopted by Costa Coffee, where 400 branches offer a table for strangers to meet. Sainsbury’s has also undertaken a pilot project; she says the store’s cafe staff have embraced the concept with great enthusiasm.

In Glasgow, city staff recruited local cafes to participate in the program – some personalized their table signs to advocate having “a little blether”. In Leeds, local library cafes have joined us. Hospital cafes across the country joined in large numbers. And the good news travels quickly: over 20 cafes have signed up in Gibraltar.

Good to talk

The UK’s International Longevity Center was established as a think tank specializing in the impact of longevity on society.

Last month, the Chatty Café program won the first Innovating for Aging award launched by ILC-UK and Just Group and a prize of £ 7,500.

Loneliness is not only a social problem, it also has profound medical implications. Described by healthcare professionals as a “silent epidemic,” increased social isolation impacts our mental health, as well as our physical health. Last year, a major study claimed that loneliness could increase risk of dementia.

The link was made in a major research project from Florida State University College of Medicine, published by the Journal of Gerontology. Based on a study of 12,000 over 50 years over a 10-year period, this is the largest project of its kind.

Angela Sutin, associate professor at FSU, says loneliness is a signal that your social needs are not being met and it makes people less likely to be physically active and more likely to smoke. Separate studies have established links between loneliness and obesity, increased blood pressure, and other health problems.

At the awards ceremony, hosted by comedian David Baddiel, it was argued that loneliness can increase the risk of dementia by 40%. Currently, the cost of treating dementia in the UK is estimated at £ 26 billion per year.

Should we be surprised that the problem of loneliness is becoming more and more general? In the online age, human contact is harder to find.

Almost a quarter of adults in the UK, 22% in the US and 9% in Japan “always or often” feel alone or socially isolated, according to an international survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit group. lucrative.

Costa Coffee conducted its own survey of 2,500 UK adults and found that 75% of them said they would like to have more conversations. However, 63 percent said they would hesitate to chat with someone they don’t know because of fear of rejection. Four percent said they had no face-to-face conversation.

“It is clear from our research that although we seem to talk less as a nation, there is a real desire for people to have more face-to-face conversations across the country,” said Victoria Moorhouse, head of the sustainable development at Costa Coffee. .

Cafes participating in the Chatty Café pay £ 10 per year; in return, they receive marketing material to put on a table referred to as the “discussion table”. Some cafes also provide information on their websites.

In addition to the mental health benefits, talking is also good for business on Main Street. Cafe owners told Ms Hoskyn that the program has attracted new customers. Some have already extended the option of one or two days a week to the whole week. The program makes economic and social sense – it means there are fewer tables with a client.

David Baddiel’s father has Pick’s disease, a form of dementia. At the awards ceremony, he said he often wonders why there are so few products to help people with dementia. For example, when he became a new father, he would go to stores and find aisles of baby and children’s products. Still, he couldn’t find anything for the elderly with dementia and felt it was a missed opportunity, as many elderly people had substantial wealth that could be used to improve their lives.

“Longevity is everyone’s business,” says David Sinclair, director of the International Longevity Center. “For too long UK businesses have viewed older consumers as unattractive. In a world with a growing number of older people, this is no longer sustainable. “

Take this route

The Innovating for Aging Awards, supported by Just Group, received 77 nominations from a multitude of companies using technology to improve lives later.

Walk with the path was a finalist for the Innovating for Aging award. The start-up manufactures mobility aids for people with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, who have become unstable with age.

Founder Lise Pape, who received an award of £ 2,500, started the business after her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and suffered from a ‘stop walking’, which means that he got stuck trying to walk. The condition can bring people down.

“The impact of falls can be devastating for the person and their family,” said Ms. Pape. “This implies a reduced quality of life, social exclusion, reduced confidence when walking and a lack of independence.

“It’s a huge cost to healthcare providers around the world, with the NHS alone spending £ 2.3bn a year. Demographic changes make the need for preventive solutions even more imperative. “

Ms. Pape designed Path Finder, a device that emits a green light in front of the walker’s shoes to give wearers an automated visual cue.

His company has also produced “Path Feel,” an insole that helps wearers with neurological disorders feel the ground better by providing active sensory feedback, which in turn helps their balance. The devices are much more discreet than walkers and canes, boosting user confidence.

Walk with Path sells direct to users in the UK and to health services in Denmark and Norway. Several NHS trusts have contacted the organization, but are still assessing how much money they will save by providing Path Finder to patients.

The Path Finder device is currently undergoing clinical trials at the National Hospital for Neurology, University College London, to collect the healthcare economic data needed for sale to the NHS. Several NHS trusts are expected to adopt the device this year.

Another finalist included, an online tool that securely collects and shares a person’s non-medical needs and preferences so that they can receive dignified and appropriate care in the hospital when they can no longer participate in these conversations.

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