As part of the celebrations we asked guests on each table to consider one of four questions:
Are benches important to you and if so why?
Do you have a story about a bench?
When was the last time you sat on a bench and where was it?
What’s the most interesting view your’ve seen from a bench?
It was an opportunity to encourage guests to think about some of the issues that would be revealed through the research and to get the table talking about benches and the role they has play in our lives.
‘Watching Niagara Falls whilst an Elvis impersonator was singing (badly) in the background” was revealed as the most interesting view from a bench. Other experiences of benches were closer to home.
During the panel discussion we held after the film screening, a local open space Oaks Park, was mentioned by guests as a place where there are many memorial benches, so it was perhaps not surprising that only the day before the launch one of the guests has sat on a bench in Oaks Park.
During the course of the research we found people talking about the bench as a landmark. In the following example it has family significance because when it is referred to as the bench, everyone know’s where that is, but the bench with a form of geographical status. “There is a bench outside St George’s Primary School in Beckenham, where I pick my wife up if she’s at a late meeting … pick me up at the bench .. she says”.
The second story talks to the bench as a time for reflection and for memories. “I still occasionally go to a bench in a park where I grew up, where I used to sit with my very first girlfriend - and that was over 50 years ago”. The bench provides an opportunity to connect with the past, reflect on happy moments and perhaps even consider their own life journey since.
Benches were seen as places for rest: at shops; in the garden; in the high street; in parks, at the seafront, or in places where you needed to wait, like at bus shelters.
One guest said they had complained about the lack of benches at Tesco and then one was provided. I welcome the supermarket bench as I now leave my father on the seat whilst my mother and I go off and do the shopping. Only this week he sat with another man, also waiting for his wife to finish the shopping, and they chatted together for some time about something and nothing.
One contributor used the bench as a place of work and found that it released their creativity, another said they relax, let the world go by or just meditate.
Whilst the bench can provide an opportunity for a serendipitous connection and conversation, it also provides an opportunity to take in a view with one guest identifying Leith Hill as a good spot. And perhaps while reflecting and people-watching you could enjoy a doughnut or two, and for one guest Brighton Pier was the place to be for that.
I know when I started working on this project and I explained to friends and colleagues what I was doing, I did get a few odd looks, but as I talked about what the research was revealing I saw people being drawn-in and lovely stories were shared about moments and memories all associated with the humble bench.