Happy to Chat benches in N.B. town encourage people to say hello
Signs encouraging people to talk to each other gaining in popularity
The Happy to Chat bench project in Riverview, N.B., started out as a small gesture to encourage people to make new friends.
But it has taken on a new meaning during the pandemic.
It's actually two benches that were placed along the Riverfront Trail a few years ago with signs asking people to sit down "if you don't mind someone stopping to say hello."
A photographer took a photo of one of the benches last week and posted it on social media, which gave the project a second life, says Eric Hopper, the manager of recreation for the Town of Riverview, which is just across the river from Moncton.
The benches, which allow people to socially distance, are meant to spark conversation.
"It just puts a smile on your face," said Hopper. "It's extremely important for people. Especially for people who are living by themselves or just isolated from family in different provinces or different health zones."
A way to spread 'holiday cheer'
Riverview has seen a sharp increase in the number of people using trails and outdoor spaces during the pandemic.
Hopper says COVID-19-weary residents are tired of being cooped up and want to enjoy some fresh air.
"Especially now with this season, with our lights being turned on ... we're seeing a mass invasion of people on the riverfront, which is great, spreading holiday cheer, and [the bench] is just another added bonus," he said.
Thousands of Christmas lights stretch a full kilometre along the riverfront on Coverdale Road.
Annick Butland, a business owner and the president of the Albert County Chamber of Commerce, uses the trails regularly, and says the Happy to Chat benches are being noticed.
"I'm starting to see as I'm walking and biking the trails that people are starting to use it," she said. "There's definitely a growing comfort level there."
Town has rep for being friendly
Butland says the riverfront area is a popular gathering spot for people. And she thinks Riverview has come up with a great way to enhance the town's reputation for being friendly.
"I travel a fair amount for work and not every city is like that, so I'm very proud of the town for being able to pull that off."
Hopper hopes people stop, take a moment out of their day and use the Happy to Chat benches.
"Even a simple hello to someone that's having a bad day means a lot to some people, right?" he said.
"I think that's the message that we like to spread with people ... you know, take a minute just to say hello instead of just walking by with your head down."
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