'Happy to chat' bench installed in Bamber Bridge in memory of late councillor

A ‘Happy to Chat’ bench designed to combat loneliness has been dedicated to the memory of late Bamber Bridge Councillor Christine Melia.

By Catherine Musgrove
Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 12:30 pm

The new bench, outside John Dory in Station Road, carries a plaque with the message: ‘sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello’.

It is one of two installed by South Ribble Borough Council between the railway tracks and Church Road, in response to increased social isolation caused by Covid-19.

Coun Melia, who passed away in September after a short illness, was a passionate advocate of the Happy to Chat initiative through her involvement in the Bamber Bridge, Lostock Hall and Walton-le-Dale Community Hub.

Ron Kempshall and Kath Lewis sat on the new "Happy to Chat" bench that has been installed in memory of Coun Christine Melia in Station Rd, Bamber Bridge

>>>Click here to read a full tribute to Councillor Melia.

Happy to chat benches were the brainchild of Cardiff woman Allison Owen-Jones, who noticed an elderly man sitting on a park bench alone for 40 minutes, without anyone saying hello to him.

Cllr Paul Foster, Leader of South Ribble Borough Council and representative of Bamber Bridge West, said: “This bench will be a fitting and lasting tribute to our good friend and colleague, Cllr Christine Melia.

“Christine was incredibly passionate about helping local people and I know this initiative was one that was particularly close to her heart.

The late Councillor Christine Melia

“The last 18 months has been an incredibly tough time for so many of us and, through our hard-working and dedicated Communities team, the Council has been doing what it can to help those who have really struggled with loneliness and isolation.

“As we continue to try and get back to something like normal life, these new benches are another small and simple way of connecting people.

“After all, they say that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. Bamber Bridge is a fabulous community and I hope that these new benches will bring us even closer together.”

There are five Community Hubs across South Ribble, all with their own budgets to deliver special projects designed to help people in their local area.

The memorial bench

Cllr Melia proposed the installation of the benches after a number of residents contacted her to point out there was a shortage of places for people to sit in this part of Bamber Bridge.

Cllr Chris Lomax, Chair of the Bamber Bridge, Lostock Hall and Walton-le-Dale Community Hub, said: “As well as giving people a place to stop and sit down, we saw an opportunity to do something a little different.

“We hope these ‘Happy to Chat’ benches will encourage residents to strike up conversations with each other as they watch the world go by.

“Christine was a real champion of this project and, though she is sadly no longer with us, these benches will help to keep her memory alive for many, many years to come.”

Cllr Melia was elected to the ward of Bamber Bridge East in May 2019. A byelection to choose a new representative for the area is to be held tomorrow (November 18).