A new ‘natter bench’ has been installed in a park in Leeds to allow lonely people to talk while sitting a safe distance apart.
Two people will be allowed to sit on the bench in Hall Park, Horsforth, once the national lockdown ends.
It is hoped the bench will bring together people who have been left isolated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Yorkshire Evening Post reported.
A sign posted near the bench says: “If you need someone to talk to, or just rest your feet – take a seat and have a chat, that’s how friends meet.”
Horsforth councillors Jonathon Taylor, Dawn Collins and Jackie Shemilt raised the money for the bench after someone wrote on Facebook a local elderly woman had become isolated during the pandemic.
Mr Taylor said: “The natter bench has been designed with social distancing in mind.
“Once the rules and guidelines say it is safe to do so, I’d encourage residents to take a moment and make time for a chat and brighten someone’s day – I think this will be so important to isolated residents, and will make a big difference in people’s lives.”
He added: “If this proves a success, which we hope it will, I would like to see more natter benches in public spaces across the whole city to bring people together.”
Older people’s mental health has declined during the COVID-19 lockdowns as their loneliness contributed to a rise in anxiety and depression, according to a study.
Researchers at the University of Exeter and King’s College London looked at data from more than 3,000 people aged over 50.
They said loneliness emerged as a key factor linked to worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A decrease in physical activity since the start of the pandemic was also associated with worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Women were more likely to be struggling with their mental health, as were retired people.
The study found before the pandemic, lonely people would report an average of two symptoms of depression for at least several days over the previous two weeks.
During lockdown, lonely people reported either an increase in frequency of depressive symptoms, to more than half the days in the two week period, or a new symptom for at least several days in that time frame.
In people who were not lonely, levels of depressive symptoms were unaffected.
Dr Byron Creese at the University of Exeter who led the study added: “It’s now crucial that we build on this data to find new ways to mitigate risk of worsening mental health during the pandemic.”
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown