It was announced this week that Costa Coffee would be rolling out the concept of ‘Chatter and Natter’ tables to 300 stores across the UK. As part of the ‘Chatty Café scheme’ it involves cafes having a designated table with a sign that signals to other people that you would be happy to have company, sit and chat. This is a scheme developed by Alexandra Hoskyn from Manchester that designed to combat loneliness that is experienced by many people across the country.
One of my main research projects about the coffee shop industry was called ‘Spaces of Community: exploring dynamics in the café industry’ it sought to explore the roles of cafes in urban spaces. One of the key points was around how cafes can act as community hubs and act as focus points for different people in the community. It was identified how for people who experience isolation in their lives, in various forms, cafes can play a really important role, providing a link to local people, and a place to go and spend time, as a well as place to get coffee!
According to a Huffpost UK article, the Head of Sustainability at Costa Coffee commented that:
“Our coffee shops have always played an important role within communities; acting as a hub for people to meet, spend time together and most importantly, talk.
“With loneliness and social isolation on the rise, feeling part of a community is more important than ever. And that’s exactly what the Chatty Café scheme is all about – we understand the importance of conversation and we want to help make it as simple as possible for our customers to open up, have a friendly chat and bring local people together within our stores”.
Evidence from my research suggests that there are many cafes that play an important role in the community, in many different ways, one of which is helping those who experience isolation. This could be isolation experienced by an elderly person, a new parent, or even someone that has just moved to the area. Whatever the reason for the loneliness, for many people, the café can be an important place to be in contact with other people, be out of the home, and have the potential to be with other people. I have seen places which have had similar designated tables with a signs (such as the one below from Ziferblat in Manchester), which proved to be popular.
There are of course many people who also go to a café to be alone, or to have some space, and don’t necessarily want to sit and talk with new people, but the fact that Costa Coffee has acknowledged that many of their stores are important for combating isolation, and are providing designated for this, is an important step.
If you’re interested in finding your nearest ‘Chatter and Natter’ table there’s an interactive map on the Chatty Café scheme website. Interestingly the one located in Coventry that has a ‘Chatter and Natter’ table happens to be one where I ended up talking with another new mum shortly after the birth of my first child. I’m sure the designated table there will be a welcome development.
To find out more about the research on the role of cafes in communities, you can read the research summary from the ‘Spaces of Community’ project here.