Have you ever had an unexpected chat with someone at the bus stop or in the queue at the supermarket? If so, you've probably forgotten all about it as you carried on with your day. But for the person who struck up the conversation, that may be the only time they spoke to somebody that day. Or even that week.
Loneliness is often a hidden problem. Even when people are in plain sight, they may be suffering from chronic isolation. Perhaps they suffer from anxiety, or lack for meaningful social experiences other than going to the shops and back. Maybe they have impairments that make conversation difficult. Potentially, every person we pass on the street could fall into a category that means they rarely have one-to-one conversations.
In Stoke, Saltbox's CareLink service has campaigned for the last eight years to banish loneliness and improve wellness for isolated over-50s through its befriending and wellfare calls, having chats about people's lives and making sure that they are on top of their physical well-being by giving reminders about eating, taking medication and keeping warm.
However, there is a new ally in the fight. Launched last week Stoke-on-Trent Area Network for Disability (Stand) the Blue Iris project asks those who sign up to a commitment to engage with people in conversation to wear a blue iris pin. The aim is to encourage strangers to strike up a conversation on the street - any time, anywhere, any topic! The aim is to give people who may not ordinarily have the chance to have a face-to-face chat with another person that day the confidence to approach someone without the fear of being snubbed.
It's a timely reminder that a little kindness can go a long way. We are looking forward to finding opportunities for CareLink and Blue Iris to face loneliness together with those who have a voice but nobody to share it with. You can read the full Sentinel article on the launch here.
Below: Members of STAND at the launch event for Blue Iris Project.