An initiative from Joy for Generation’s Lucy Adlam to keep all members of Carterton’s community connected has seen the inclusion of the district’s first official ‘Happy to Chat’ bench.

The seat on the corner of High Street and Holloway Street provides Carterton residents and visitors of all ages a central place to have a friendly chat, talk to someone they wouldn’t normally talk to and maybe even meet someone new.

“I saw an article from the UK about a lot of elderly people going to police stations because they were lonely and had time to chat,” Lucy said.

“So, the police found a bench and made a sign which said sit ‘here if you’re happy to chat’.”

The initiative soon took off all over the world, with ‘happy to chat’ benches popping up in many different locations.

This seemed like a great concept for Joy for Generations to implement in Carterton, as the organisation’s vision is for community members of all ages to feel connected, valued and included.

“Communities are doing ‘Happy to Chat’ differently everywhere,” Lucy said.

For example, in Zimbabwe, the ‘Happy to Chat’ bench is frequented by local grandmothers with counselling experience and use the location as a way of providing a listening ear and free advice to members of its communities.

“Our ‘Happy to Chat’ bench will be whatever Carterton wants to make it,” Lucy said.

The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench was a collaboration between Joy for Generations, Ka Pai Carterton, Age Concern, Carterton District Council and its Place Making Advisory Group, Wai Art and Neighbourhood Support. Local business Nectarine also jumped on board with designing and painting the sign above the bench, with funding from Carterton District Council.

The seat was announced during Carterton District Council’s Summer Street Party last month – an annual event where new and existing residents can meet each other, as well as get to know their elected members.

“The Summer Street Party was the perfect place to announce the launch of Carterton’s ‘Happy to Chat’ bench, as the essence of our annual street party is bringing members of our community together,” said Community Services Manager, Carrie McKenzie.

“Our council was happy to support such a great initiative which provides a space where our community members can feel welcome and connected. This ties in with some of the things our council is already working on, such as our Positive Ageing Strategy actions and our Place Making Advisory Group’s vision for Carterton.”

The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench is also listed on Google, which means people can ‘check-in’ online, put photos of the bench on google maps, and leave reviews. Lucy hopes people will check-in and share their experiences online using the hashtag #happytochatcarterton.

People wanting to hear more about the initiative, including Lucy’s journey on Kiwi Rail’s Great Journeys of New Zealand train trip to Auckland to trial the concept, can come to a free storytelling event at 7.30pm on 18 February at the Carterton Events Centre.

The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench is already available for people to use, with the official launch taking place on 22 February at 4pm with a ribbon cutting and celebration.

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