A social initiative that began in Cardiff, UK and is fast spreading across the world, has now entered Poland with the launch of ‘happy to chat’ benches in the city of Krakow.

Happy to chat benches are designed to fight loneliness among the socially isolated within the community by encouraging conversations between strangers in public spaces. This idea was conceived by Allison Owen-Jones after watching an elderly man in a busy Cardiff park who sat alone, completely ignored by the people around him. Though she wanted to approach him and strike up a conversation, she had no idea how to do it without creating an awkward situation.

Taking matters into her own hands, she set about creating signs that would be tied to park benches indicating that the person sitting on the bench was open to a conversation. The sign read 'Happy to chat bench. Sit here if you don't mind someone stopping to say hello'.

The chat bench idea has been so successful that it is being replicated in several countries across the world including Canada, USA, Australia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

The decision to launch happy to chat benches in Krakow was inspired by Owen-Jones following her talk to a city TEDx group last year. Hosted by Kraków’s Jewish Community Centre (JCC), funded by Polish architecture company Fulco and supported by members of the Open Coffee Youth group as well as the local city authorities, the happy to chat discussion benches called ‘gadulawka’ (chat bench in Polish) were launched in the city.

The launch of the Gadulawka chat benches have come at the right time with loneliness becoming a real issue in the community, especially among the elderly following the outbreak of the pandemic, which led to frequent lockdowns, minimising human interactions and causing social isolation.

The chat benches in Krakow feature a simple and attractive design in green and grey, with the sign on the side written in Hebrew, Polish and English, inviting people to sit down and start a conversation.

Image credit: Gadulawka