Glenys Reid unexpectedly experienced social isolation for the first time in 2017 and found that people in similar situations were always welcoming of a conversation if she approached them. In 2019, Glenys learnt about Chatty Café in the UK, and not long after, Chatty Café Australia was born.
Chatty Café Australia connects communities and increases social interactions by bringing people together to have a chat. ‘I found that chatting with someone instantly lifted my mood, and it didn’t matter that we were strangers. It’s such a simple way to make a difference, so I had to bring this concept to Australia. We’re a friendly bunch, and I knew this could combat loneliness and improve people’s well-being,’ said Ms Reid, Director of Chatty Café Australia.
The strengths of this model were recognised and supported with Victorian Government funding. ‘Social connection is known to improve someone’s mental health and wellbeing. By supporting Chatty Café and rolling this out to community venues like neighbourhood houses, both volunteers and participants benefit from regular social interaction. And the venues are livelier too, providing a great atmosphere for all,’ said Mr Josef Seidler, Chair of the Inner South-East Metropolitan Partnership Board.
As a Chatty Café supporter, hospitality and social venues offer ‘Have a Chat’ tables, where anyone can stay for a chat as long as they wish. Some of these tables are available all year round, while others have set days for the program. Volunteers help by being a familiar face at the table, acting as a facilitator to break the ice and keeping participants comfortable.
‘Since 2019, we’ve had 70 volunteers support Chatty Café in roughly 190 venues. We also offer online catchups, so those who prefer to stay home can still volunteer or participate.
‘Our volunteers play a key role in ensuring the continued success of Chatty Café. With growing expansion, volunteers are the face of our organisation. They provide their time to both listen and converse with others, and it’s easier to join a table if there’s someone welcoming you with a smile,’ added Ms Reid.
There’s no age limit either. Chatty Café’s youngest volunteer is Laura*, a 16-year-old living in Mornington Peninsula. Laura saw how her great grandma benefitted from regular socialising and wanted the same for other elderly people in her area. She reached out to Chatty Café and several aged care homes and set plans in motion.
‘I volunteer about 2 hours a week and have been doing this for almost a year. I find it so rewarding whenever I see the smiles on people’s faces. It’s easy to think I’m doing very little. I’m simply sitting at a table and talking to those who join me, but I know that this is having a profound impact on their lives and mental health,’ said Laura.
Often, volunteers find the exchanges as beneficial as participants. ‘I’ve learnt so much from chatting with others. I've gained new perspectives and have been exposed to other cultures. It’s been just as fun for me, and I often leave a session feeling fulfilled. I help at venues in my local area, and I feel more connected to my neighbourhood,’ said Helie*, Sandringham-based Chatty Café volunteer.
Chatty Café is expanding into Glen Eira and Stonnington local government areas through the support of the Metropolitan Partnership Program.
In 2021, the Inner South-East Metropolitan Partnership supported the Bayside City Council with $70,000 in funding to roll out the Chatty Café project across the Bayside area. A further $200,000 has been granted to delivery partners for its expansion, having demonstrated its ability to increase community resilience, reduce social isolation and connect vulnerable people.
Interested in becoming a volunteer? Sign up here today to get started.
*last name withheld for privacy reasons
Page last updated: 22/05/23