“We love talking to people we don’t know. Whenever we do, good stuff seems to happen.”
Polly Akhurst is talking about “Talk me London”, an organization tackling Londoners’ lack of communication.
Their inaugural event, ‘Talk to Me SE London week’, will take place in different venues in New Cross later this month.
She goes on: “There is evidence that talking is good for people: it increases their wellbeing and sense of community.”
Yet here at a bus stop just off Friendly Street, in Lewisham, someone is staring into the distance; someone else is intently checking their phone and someone closely scrutinizing the timetable. Despite the street’s name, nobody is talking to each other.
After witnessing a similar scene in other public spaces in London, Polly Akhurst and Ann Don Bosco, alumni relations manager for UWC and manager at strategy consultancy Good Business, founded ‘Talk to Me London’.
The initiatives planned range from cooking classes with Deptford 999 Club to activities in New Cross Learning, an open dinner and a pub quiz. All of them will share a feature: whoever attends will be expected to talk to somebody they have not met before.
The week will open on the 26th with the ‘Talk Stop Challenge’: 4 bus stops in New Cross will be transformed by artist Patricio Forrester into hubs of conversation. Ideas from the public on how to inspire chatting with visual props are welcomed on ‘Talk to Me London’’s website.
The easiest way to get involved in the project is by picking up one of the 3,000 ‘Talk to Me’ badges that will be distributed in the area. Akhurst explained they are meant to be a ‘playful sign’ that should not make people feel forced into talking. “It’s a solidarity thing” she added, “it’s a way of saying that you believe in something’. Participants are also encouraged to organize their own events during the week.”
Some local residents, however, felt intimidated by the idea of wearing a badge: Joanne Mynett, 66, said: “I wouldn’t put a badge on, because it’s open to all”. A preoccupation echoed by Denis Tingay, 48, who said: “in principle it’s a good idea, but I suppose the only caveat is that you have no idea of who you’re going to get.” Yet, he continued: “Communities are fractured in London, and this could be repealed by communication. It would make London more tolerant and open, a less intimidating place to be.”
“It is needed,” said Natasha Hunt, 40, from Deptford, “maybe just don’t wear it late at night!”
Jo Clare, chief executive of Three Cs, a local charity for people with mental health challenges, said: “In London, most of us are far too ‘heads down and busy’ to engage with the people around us. A friendly chat with someone who regularly stands at the same bus stop or shops at the same supermarket as you can help both of you feel more connected and valued”.
‘Talk to Me London’ is an enterprise independent from local authorities which will soon constitute a charity.
To find out more about the events planned and how to contribute, visit www.talktomelondon.org