A report released today by The Young Foundation finds that benches in our towns and cities, though easily overlooked, play a crucial role in social life. The report argues that benches are currently being removed from public spaces; damaging community life and social integration.
The report, Benches for everyone: solitude in public, sociability for free finds that benches foster inclusion and help diverse communities to interact. Benches provide a free place for different individuals or large groups to meet, a space for people to pause and feel a sense of belonging, and also serve as a necessary resting place for older people.
However, increasingly associated with attracting ‘antisocial behaviour’, benches have begun to be removed from towns and cities, or made deliberately uncomfortable to dissuade people from using them as meeting places.
The report argues that a lack of benches will disproportionately impact groups for whom other social spaces, such as coffee shops, are not available due to their cost or social codes. Instead of removing benches, people should be encouraged to use them through good planning, design and management of spaces.
Radhika Bynon, from the Young Foundation, said: “Benches are highly egalitarian, inviting anyone to become part of that place for a time. Without them, certain groups don’t have access to the public sphere. Benches may seem peripheral to the main issues of the day, but they connect to integration, housing, precarious employment, and corporate-led regeneration. Ultimately, benches support equality and we need more of them.”
Authors Radhika Bynon and Clare Rishbeth will share key findings of the report at the MY100 Conference on Wednesday 11 November.
An event in London on 24 November will explore the findings of the report.
Notes to editors
Benches for Everyone was funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The ethnographic study brought together the Young Foundation and academics from Sheffield University, Sheffield Hallam, Sussex University and the Greenwich Inclusion Project.
Contact Radhika Byron, Project Lead at The Young Foundation on 07917 605050.
Research on the role of benches in community life was carried out in three sites: General Gordon Square in Woolwich, nearby Winn Common, and St Helier Open Space in Sutton.
More on the Bench Project: http://the-bench-project.weebly.com
The Young Foundation: www.youngfoundation.org
The University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape: www.sheffield/ac.uk/landscape
Lunchtime Seminar: Benches for Everyone, 24 November 1pm at The Young Foundation. Book here.