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Guest Blog: ‘The Chatty Café Scheme and what it means to me’. By Pippa Unwin

Posted on 16 April 2018

A week in the life of our new fast paced world… driving to work, utilising technology and gadgets to do more and more in less and less time… coming home every night to my most amazing husband and cooking a meal together and walking the dogs together then cuddling on the sofa together, to be repeated 5 nights a week until the weekend arrives- our time!  Our 48 hours to do whatever we wanted.

We met through a shared passion of motorbikes, we went riding almost every weekend and that always included cafes for breakfast or lunch, with the odd ice cream or hot chocolate stop along the way – depending on the weather!  We were blissfully happy but wanted to buy a house and get a mess of dogs, so we made the move from London to Yorkshire leaving all our friends behind.  We were recently married and wanted to spend every waking hour with each other anyway, so making new friends in our new home town didn’t seem like a priority.  Between the dogs and the motorbikes we enjoyed every spare minute together… our life was idyllic.

Fast forward 7 years, and my most amazing husband, aged 42 was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. We hoped for 5 years, but we got 4 months.  At 39 I was faced with having to arrange a funeral for my soulmate – the man I had devoted every minute of my spare time to since meeting 9 years earlier and the one I had planned to grow old and grey with.  Losing your partner is far reaching – it touches every aspect of your life, and fundamentally changes you as a person.  On top of that, your entire social life has disappeared – in our case that was time spent together, but for others in my situation even if they did a lot of socialising it is often with other couples and suddenly you feel like an outsider, even if you aren’t one.  Being the only ‘single’ person in a room full of couples is an extremeley lonely place to be.

So what are you to do??  In some cultures there are communes, or your family members are obliged to take you in.  In Victorian times you could take a companion or a manservant to accompany you on your travels.  In darker days you might have been put to death alongside them!!  Nowadays, with families far removed, where communities no longer know their neighbours, and everyone has such hectic shedules… where do you turn to meet people or to simply have a chat?

Loneliness is a scourge.  The thought that there are people so isolated they might go days and weeks without talking to anyone gives me a truly heavy heart.  If anyone could have said it could happen to me, in my 30s no less, I wouldn’t have been able to understand.  But life does not always go to plan.  People become isolated for many different reasons – mental or physical ill health, becoming a carer for a relative, redundancy, old age, bereavement… but the one thing they have in common is once you are on that path, it’s hard to get off of it.  There are few opportunties for anyone that isn’t keeping up with the pace of the world.  Few opportunties that allow us to just sit and have a chat with someone about nothing in particular- just a chat to make us feel like we are still connected with the world.  It makes us feel good about ourselves and about the world around us – it gives us a cause to smile.

This is why I am writing this blog.  To find out about the chatter & natter scheme through a local cafe – a favourite of mine and my husbands, but one I haven’t wanted to visit since he died.  Partly because it feels extra lonely looking at the chair he used to occupy, but also partly because they are a small independent cafe and can ill afford tables being taken up by only one person.  To see they were launching a chatty table literally lifted my heart.  I feel like I can go back there – to regain a small piece of my old life, and even though it will be different, that’s ok.  Different is better than non-existent.

I applaud the people behind this most amazing scheme – and hope to see a chatty table in every cafe and restaurant across the country!  It is good for the businesses, the communities and the people like me who just want to be able to go to a cafe alone, but leave having had a nice chat with someone new.  It isn’t about making friends for life (although you never know!), it is just about connecting with the outside world in a new and interesting way.

Thank you from the bottom of my empty heart for giving me a reason to rekindle my joy of our favourite local cafe xxx