A new mental health awareness project, The Bench UK, has launched in Norfolk – building 100 benches across the UK to encourage people to take a seat and talk.

The project's founder, Andy Watts, who lives near Reepham, worked as a practitioner at an urgent treatment centre in Lincolnshire during the Covid-19 pandemic, where he said his own mental health was affected.

It was one of the reasons behind launching the project.

Eastern Daily Press: New mental health project The Bench UK and founder Andy Watts

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“Covid-19 was a particularly challenging time for everyone, but the restrictions on our social interactions had a dramatic effect on people’s coping mechanisms,” Mr Watts said.

“Social inclusion is important for most of us, that’s why we make friends, join groups or take up a new hobby: to meet people and talk.

“The importance of this should never be over-looked. We need to talk.”

The Bench UK is publishing videos of people talking about their experiences of Covid-19.

The conversations, which are filmed on a bench, are unscripted and are being released on YouTube.

Alongside this, the project is installing 100 benches as a symbol to encourage people to reengage in healthy conversations.

The first two restored benches are being donated to the Bircham Centre, in Reepham, on June 5.

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Eastern Daily Press: The Bench UK is building 100 benches across the UK

“I missed seeing and talking to my friends,” Mr Watts said.

“As the weeks passed, I felt disconnected from them and bottled-up my emotions. The thought of eventually breaking the ‘two-meter distance rule’ to have face-to-face conversations again seemed implausible.

“So, when the restrictions lifted, I forced myself to sit on a bench and chat to people again. It became a talking point. I would drop my son off at school, then head to 'The Bench’.

“Forming a mental health awareness project based on my experiences seemed a natural step. We've been overwhelmed by people’s response and support.

“It’s great to see and hear people talking again.”

Full details of how to get involved with The Bench UK can be found on its website: www.thebenchuk.co.uk

Eastern Daily Press: The Bench UK