Yorkshire woman creates ‘Happy Benches’ in the North East to combat loneliness
Kelly Williams, 46, from West Yorkshire, travels the UK spreading joy in her camper van affectionately named the ‘Yellow Van of Love’ after launching her ‘Happy Bench’ project.
In an attempt to combat loneliness, Miss Williams has created signs to encourage people to get back to basics and to sit and have conversations with strangers, in a post-pandemic society. Which she attaches to public benches.
‘Happy Benches’ can be found in North-East locations such as Redcar, Hartlepool, Blackhall Colliery, Peterlee, Sunderland, Alnwick, North Tyneside, Consett and Guisborough.
Speaking to Sunderland Global media, Miss Williams explains what inspired the campaign:
“I used to be a post lady, and through that I got to witness a lot of people living alone, this is where my passion for this project and concern for loneliness came from.
“I saw the idea for chat benches online, a lady called Alison Jones launched a chat bench in her local community in Wales and it was really successful. I ended up buying my yellow van of love a few years ago and took it on the road.
“During the warmer months, I travel around the UK putting up these ‘Happy Bench’ posters. I grow my own sunflowers and leave them on the benches as acts of kindness for people to find.”
Miss Williams will be taking her Yellow Van of Love overseas to Europe on April 1 to tackle loneliness and share the Happy Bench project in different locations during a three-month road trip.
The project has been overwhelmingly positive, with Miss Williams saying “I usually announce online where I am going to be in the country, when I was in Hartlepool, I met up with a group of four people whom I had never met before, we walked along the front, put up the Happy Benches, then went and sat behind the Andy Cap statue and had fish and chips together. It is a lovely way of bringing people together.”
“I think loneliness is a huge problem everywhere in the world, I am not married and do not have children, and as a middle-aged woman, I am affected by loneliness sometimes.
“It is sometimes believed that loneliness is something that can only affect elderly people, but you don’t even have to be single to be lonely, you can feel lonely within a family or a marriage. I wanted to highlight the fact that you can be lonely at any age.
“Human connection is something I often talk a lot about, after the lockdowns that the pandemic brought we were so restricted from that human connection. We need reminding again that this is what we do as human beings; we chat, we say hello, we talk to strangers. Whether that be on a bench, in the street, or in the supermarket.”
“I want to spread the message of communication, in a world that is becoming more and more filled with robots, we need to keep that human connection alive within all of us.”
In the future, Miss Williams hopes to invite people to donate so that they can dedicate a ‘Happy Bench’ to someone they love. “Not everyone can afford a memorial bench, this way people would be able to sponsor a Happy Bench and we would leave a dedication on the bench for the person they have lost.
People can get in touch to create more ‘Happy Benches’, and to follow Kelly Williams on her travels by following the #TheYellowVanOfLove on any social media platform.
Have you found a Happy Bench in your area? Take a photo and send it in to Sunderland Global Media. Share the happiness by connecting with others.