I love the idea of chatty cafes.

The Chatty Café Scheme was set up by a young mum, Alexandra Hoskyn, on a wet and windy day in a supermarket café in the north of England. Alexandra explains:

“I was in a supermarket café with my four-month-old son. He wasn’t great company and I was feeling fed up. I looked round the café and saw an elderly lady sitting alone on one table who looked just as down as me, and at another table was a young man with severe additional needs and his support worker. I started to think about the positive impact we could have on each other if we could all sit together and chat.”

From this came the idea of a ‘Chatter & Natter’ table, where café customers can sit and talk to other customers. The initiative is designed to tackle loneliness, but focus is positive. It isn’t about building new friendships (although that may happen); the aim is simply to encourage a conversation between people who otherwise would not meet each other and to provide an opportunity for human connection.

‘Chatter and Natter’ tables have been in the news recently because Costa Coffee has signed up to the scheme and has a dedicated ‘Chatter and Natter’ table in more than 300 of their shops nationwide.

This followed research undertaken by Costa Coffee revealing that 63% of people are hesitant to start a conversation with someone they don’t know, but 75% said that they’d like more real-life conversations.

The story resonated strongly with me because, from my own experience, I know that it works. When my husband was very ill – not with dementia but with other life limiting conditions which severely affected his mobility and wellbeing – he found a lifeline in a nearby café in the town where we lived. Every day he went along to meet other people, some similarly displaced by illness or social circumstances, others with no evident difficulties. This café attracted local people, who found the environment and ambience pleasing, and the coffee good.

The owner of the café was a personality, and this was part of its appeal. There was always a subject to discuss: a new business coming to town, a controversial planning application, a political disagreement, a time in life to reminisce about, a family situation to celebrate or bemoan.

Whatever the weather, whatever the season, this café was open, and if any of the ‘regulars’ went missing for more than a couple of days, questions were asked as to their whereabouts and wellbeing. It was a community safety net. Light touch. There were no expectations, purely a genuine reciprocal concern for everyone involved. And this grew organically. It wasn’t set up as an initiative or project, it simply happened.

So, for young people, older people, people living with dementia, family carers – indeed, everyone – I think ‘Chatter and Natter’ tables are fantastic.

As Alexandra Hoskyn says, “I know from experience that when you are feeling lonely, a short interaction with another human being can really brighten your day”.

If you have had any experience of ‘Chatter and Natter’ tables or similar initiatives, whether structured of informal, please do get in touch to let us know. I can be contacted at barbara@liftedcare.com

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