I recently read about the most wonderful scheme in England to help people who are feeling lonely. There are now chatter and natter tables in English cafes where customers can sit to talk to other customers. The idea is that if you sit at the ‘chatter and natter’ table you are expected to talk to the other people seated at the table.
A Chatter and Natter table brings people together, and everyone is invited to sit there. It does not matter if you’re on your own, in a couple or with a friend, you can sit at the chatter and natter table. If you’re a carer of a disabled person or a parent with a young child or grandparents with a baby, or a university student you can still join in. You can stay for five minutes or the whole day. The scheme is not about making friends, it just gives people the chance to have a good old fashioned human interaction.
Bring it to Australia!
I love this scheme and really want to see cafes in Australia do something similar. There has been real concern in the United Kingdom about the dangers of loneliness on mental health. Britain has even appointed the first Minister for Loneliness – that’s a world first.
Loneliness in Britain has been described as a silent epidemic, with an estimated 1.1 million Britons describing themselves as lonely. One of the UK’s most popular coffee chains, Costa, set up the “chatter and natter” table scheme. It has been rolled out to 300 of its outlets across the country. Costa’s initiative followed a trial last April, when 25 of its stores tested out the chatter and natter table concept. It was a great success.
The idea is that cafes dedicate one of their tables to those on their own looking for someone to chat to. These chats or interactions, however brief, will help people struggling with feelings of loneliness.
The scheme was invented by a lonely mum
The “Chatty Cafe” scheme was the brain scheme of mother-of-one, Alexandra Hoskyn. In 2017 she spotted an elderly woman alone in a supermarket cafe and a young man with his support worker, who looked like he could use some company.
Ms Hoskyn, who was with her four-month-old baby at the time, was also feeling lonely. She told The Independent newspaper that “the baby wasn’t great company and I was feeling fed up.
“I started to think about the positive impact we could all have on each other if we could all have a chat,” she told The Independent. “I know from experience that when you are feeling lonely, a short interaction with another human can really brighten your day.”
There are now more than 100 independent cafes across the UK that have adopted the scheme, however, Costa is the first major chain to take part.
“Chatty Café is a fantastic initiative that we are very proud to be involved with,” said Costa's head of sustainability, Victoria Moorhouse.
I really want to see an Australian coffee chain introduce chatty tables. I worry that Australians are becoming more insular looking. Go into any Australian city and you will see hundreds of people with earphones in their ears looking at screen. My gosh, they have blocked the world out!
People need people
Never forget that people need people. People end up feeling lonely when they desire more interpersonal closeness than they actually have. How much connectedness a person needs influences how lonely they feel. Some people, mainly extroverts, need lots of connectedness with others, while introverts don’t need nearly as much.
Be aware that it is not the number or duration of social relationships that decide whether you feel lonely. Rather, it is the emotional quality of the interaction. For example, when a person feels distrust, conflict or a lack of support towards the other person then the meeting will not lessen their loneliness.
Long-term loneliness can cause social isolation, depression, substance abuse, poor sleep and appetite, suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and poor immune and cardiovascular health.
How do you treat loneliness?
The treatment for loneliness is simple: therapy with a counsellor or psychologist and/or community events where lonely people feel a sense of connectedness.
During therapy loneliness can be decreased by helping the person end destructive relationships and form healthy relationships. Feelings of distrust and anger in a relationship are never helpful and can perpetuate the problem. In addition, the counsellor needs to look for underlying psychological conditions that may be contribute to the person’s loneliness.
Humans are social beings
Humans have evolved over millions of years as social beings. In the Stone Age, we needed each other and had to cooperate to survive, otherwise we would have been eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. There may be fewer threats in today’s world but people still need each other. A lack of connections to others causes loneliness.
In our advanced digital age, we seem to care less for each other. I’m sorry but I fail to see that as ‘progress’. A thousand years ago our survival depended on trusting and supporting other people. It doesn’t matter how technologically sophisticated you are – whether you can operate a smart phone or post to Facebook – our emotional connections to others remains the essence of our humanity. If you don’t have a community you are nothing.
Who in your community is lonely?
Who in your community is lonely? Who can you reach out to and support today? A young mother with small children? An elderly person who has lost their spouse? A student living far away from home? Who needs your companionship?
We may no longer be living in the Stone Age, but we still need other people if we are going to psychologically survive.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.