As a means of tackling loneliness and social isolation in English towns, local police forces have begun designating specific public benches that can be used for making friends and having conversations.

The “Chat Benches”, which are now located in two different parks and outdoor areas in Somerset, are identified by little signs reading: “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello!”

The Avon and Somerset Police Department Facebook page recently published photos of their two new “Chat Benches” in Burnham and Taunton with an encouraging note for readers to stop by and use them for socialization.

“The sign simply helps to break down the invisible, social barriers that exists between strangers who find themselves sharing a common place. We can all play a part…” says the police department. “Simply stopping to say ‘hello’ to someone at the ‘Chat Bench’ could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in our communities and help to make life a little better for them.”

According to the department, 17% of older people are only in contact with family, friends and neighbors less than once a week, which can leave them feeling isolated. Collectively, this amounts to roughly 9 million UK residents who suffer from loneliness and isolation each year.

MORE: ‘Friendship Benches’ Alleviate Mental Illness Symptoms For Thousands

The police force launched the Chat Bench initiative earlier this month to coincide with United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Though the officers say that there are many different forms of elder abuse which deserve our concern, they hope that the Chat Benches will help to tackle senior loneliness in their communities.

“The Chat Bench is fantastic new initiative that I hope encourages those of all ages to start many more conversations in the future,” says Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens. “I encourage you to stop by and say ‘hello’. It really could make a huge difference to that person.”

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