BENCHES designed to encourage people to chat have been introduced in Worcester.

'Happy to chat' plaques have been installed on two benches in St John's in a bid to combat social isolation.

And Councillor Richard Udall says if it proves successful, he will see if it can be rolled out across the city.

The plaques on benches in St Clement's Close carry the message: “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.”

Cllr Udall, who represents St John’s ward on the city council, said: “The police introduced them in Burnham-on-Sea, and they have been very successful there. They are now there, so anyone who wants to sit there, it gives them an opportunity to have a chat with someone. Sadly there are a lot of lonely people, particularly elderly people, and schemes like this help to combat social isolation.”

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Cllr Richard Udall has agreed to use money from his divisional funds to buy the signs. and hopes the idea will now gain momentum. He added if it does take off and, if he can get Worcester City Council on board, he hopes it can be introduced in areas such as around the river Severn.

Cllr Udall tweeted a picture of the benches, adding: “Thanks to @FortisLiving for agreeing to my request for “Happy to Chat” benches - bringing people together to talk.”

After the initial success of the scheme in the UK, the idea has spread globally with benches popping up in Canada, the United States, Australia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Last year an Age UK survey found that more than a million older people say they always or often feel lonely. And experts say chronic loneliness can impact on memory, mental and physical health, and it is a major contributing factor behind the financial exploitation of the elderly, with scammers befriending the elderly people before conning them out of money.