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19 August 2020
The Friendly Bench, a social organization in the UK, uses its large bench and activities to build stronger communities and fight social isolation across the country. Every bench/mini park serves as a designated spot for residents to gather, for both informal and organized get-togethers. Each local site is required to hold at least 12 community events per year; these have included skill-share meetings, workshops, and other activities. Members do not have to pay any fees to participate. In the wake of COVID, The Friendly Bench has pivoted to virtual events such as a “virtual tea” with the UK Minister for Loneliness, Diana Baron, and socially-distant picnics (with each member receiving a picnic delivery to their home). This month, The Friendly Bench opened two new spaces.
This U-shaped bench, designed to snugly seat people together — and not six feet apart — was clearly not built with a pandemic in mind. It recalls the time when the VILLAGE SQUARED trend we track was in full swing; whereby brands fostered much-needed social connections via shared, physical spaces. We saw brands like Five Below turn hundreds of stores into esports hubs, old parking lots being transformed into heavily (foot) trafficked spaces like The Forum in the Netherlands, and even skate ramps in department stores.
Of course, our current health guidelines mean spaces like these and The Friendly Bench’s bench cannot be used exactly the way they once were. Yet the underlying human need driving this trend — connection — has only been amplified in recent months. So The Friendly Bench as an organization, with its continued expansion and assortment of virtual offerings, has nevertheless kept the VILLAGE SQUARED spirit alive. We’ve covered other brands that have managed to do this in the latest issue of Make→Shift, Hands Off...But Human.
How can you also balance consumers’ competing needs for social distancing and social interaction? Is there also a way you can help residents in your own locale maintain a sense of community?
The TrendWatching content team