RNLI Penarth ‘Friendship Bench’ aims to tackle loneliness and boost mental health

Pippa-Marie SheppardCommunity

A striking orange and blue bench on Penarth Esplanade, put in place by RNLI Penarth and Vale of Glamorgan Council, is aiming to tackle loneliness and give people the chance to talk about mental health.

The ‘Friendship Bench’, painted in RNLI colours, will be accompanied by a sign encouraging people to sit, have a chat and potentially make new friends. The bench gives an opportunity for people to strike up conversations with strangers, whether they are feeling lonely, need somebody to talk to, or simply want a friendly chat.

The initiative comes in response to an increase in mental health related incidents to which Penarth’s volunteer lifeboat crew is being tasked. RNLI Penarth’s Community Safety Team represent the lifeboat station at a number of regional mental health forums, and have worked with Vale of Glamorgan Council to create the Friendship Bench.

Stephen Siddall, RNLI Penarth Community Safety Volunteer, said:

‘Whilst we aren’t a mental health charity, suicide and self-harm related incidents are something we are increasingly dealing with both locally and nationally. We hope the bench will help people create links and friendships in the community.

‘Lots of people are keen to connect with others, butmight be nervous about striking up a conversation with strangers. The bench takes some of that away, by giving people a way to signal that they want a friendly conversation, or to show that they need some help and support.

‘The Vale of Glamorgan Council have been excellent in supporting the Friendship Bench initiative through granting permission and then carrying out the bench refurbishment free of charge.’

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 143,000 lives.