Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and wondered about striking up a conversation with the person at the next table? Coffee Companions is a new initiative which helps you to know who does, and who doesn’t want to talk. Our guest blogger Caroline Billington tells us more.

coffee companions

Plucking up courage is the start, but fear of rejection, and the knowledge that a lot of people simply don’t want to chat puts you off. In a world where people check their mobile phones an average of 85 times a day, and spend more than eight hours a day on an electronic device, the more traditional ways of communicating seem to be getting lost. And so you sit there alone, two people who would love to have a friendly one-to-one, but don’t know it.

Now there is a simple, discreet and clear way of knowing who does and doesn’t want to talk, without even asking. Coffee Companions is a new social enterprise which has developed Chat Mats; two sided laminated discs, with both a red and a green side, to indicate whether the person is happy to ‘Say hello and have a chat’, or ‘Not today, maybe another time’.

Coffee Companions has a vision of creating contacts, building healthy communities, by letting others know when their company would be welcome – starting with a cup of coffee.

We know that social isolation has serious health implications and is equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. “Creating contacts” can therefore improve health and reduce the need for GP visits or hospital care. Chat Mats also provide choice; we need to respect the right to privacy. For some, being able to be part of a social environment, without the need to engage with it, will enable a tentative first step.

Many will use their Chat Mats in a high street coffee shop, but there is no limit to locations. It could be the supermarket café, the restaurant at a tourist attraction, a leisure centre, hospital or workplace.

Chat Mats are for anyone to use anywhere, at any time. There is no need for club membership, specific meeting times, or volunteers to administer the initiative. Individuals simply need to buy, or be given, Chat Mats.

The health, social and emotional benefits can then be extended into the community by using health and care professionals to share the concept:

  • GPs who want a social prescription they can physically hand over (in time, with a list of locally registered locations offering a Companions Hour). This could be linked to a leisure centre with a coffee shop so that social and physical activity are combined
  • Older people referred to a befriending or ‘home from hospital’ scheme that need a helping hand to the next stage could use them when out with a carer
  • Staff who have moved to be near work and want to know where to find information about the local community, and people to chat to
  • Along with anyone else, anywhere, at any time.