'Happy to Chat' benches installed at Old Trafford

Monday 13 March 2023 09:00

Manchester United has installed several ‘Happy to Chat’ benches on the forecourt at Old Trafford, in a bid to tackle loneliness.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of people feeling disconnected from other people and isolated within their communities – something which was particularly highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Loneliness can, of course, have a huge impact on our physical and mental health.

‘Happy to Chat’ benches first became popular in 2019, and have since spread around the world. And now United is joining the fight against loneliness, by welcoming fans to chat and interact outside Old Trafford on any day of the week, whether the conversation is football-related or not.
The newly installed ‘Happy to Chat’ benches on the Old Trafford forecourt invite fans to take a seat and create conversations in an attempt to tackle the issue of loneliness.
“The idea actually started from being in a local park near me,” explains Jason Williamson, a Manchester United Foundation employee who first suggested the idea to the club. 
“I’d just sat down on a bench while walking the dog and there was an older gentleman at the other end of the bench. He just started having a natter about his day and that kind of stuff. 
“It wasn’t until after he’d got up and left that I saw [a sign saying]: ‘Sit here if you’re happy to talk.’ I just thought: what a lovely idea and initiative, to get people connecting.
“I just had a nice buzz about it,” he continues. “Maybe I’d been the only person that he’d chatted with that day. And I thought: ‘What a great initiative to introduce to Old Trafford.’ 
“Obviously, football is a massive talking point and Manchester United is a massive talking point, so why not have places where people can happily sit down and converse with each other about life, football or wherever it may lead?”

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The benches will remain permanently in place on the forecourt, seven days a week, and all are welcome to sit down for a chat with whoever they encounter.
“Football connects generations, it connects households, it connects families, friendships – it’s a universal language, isn’t it?” says Williamson. “So why not use that as a tool to combat loneliness?
“Loneliness is one of the biggest issues we’ve got today. It can affect people’s health as much as smoking and drinking. So if we can put something in place to get people connecting and get people talking then hopefully we’re doing something right.”