The man behind the Tunbridge Wells ‘buddi bench’ that’s got strangers talking

The man behind the ‘buddi bench’ in a park in Tunbridge Wells has spoken candidly about what he hopes he will achieve and why he wanted to do it. Seth Hunter, 46, who lives in the town, paid £900 for the Calverley Grounds bench after going to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council with his idea.

He said the purpose of the seat, which officially launched on Sunday, May 15, is to allow people to have 10-minute conversations with strangers and feel better about the interaction. Kent Live took to the bench for a 10-minute interview with Seth to find out more.

“I moved to Tunbridge Wells before Covid. I was working from home and didn’t really know anyone. My sister lives here. But I was a bit isolated. What I really wanted was a lot of small talk. “

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“I didn’t want hours of intensity. I’ve done that in other jobs. I just wanted to talk about the weather and share a nugget, like ‘have you seen that movie, read that book?’

“I got a puppy about 10 months ago in May and it’s like being a member of a club you never knew existed. No dog walker walks by without saying hello. I thought that was good. The key to the success of the bench is that you have a handrail and a ramp.”

“Sitting on the bench gives people permission to talk to you, to start. The starting ramp is that you might not want to talk for more than 10 minutes, so you can say ‘I have to go, the cleaners are coming “or something like that. Starting Ramp,” said Seth, whose parents gave him his unusual name because when they lived in Boulder, Colorado he was as familiar as “John or Michael,” said Seth.

Seth has a fascinating background and although modest, he’s clearly used to helping others – and it’s in his DNA. His mother Margaret Smallbone is a child psychotherapist and his sister, Natascha Fulford, a special education teacher for children with learning difficulties.

Seth Hunter and his Springer Spaniel pup May live in Tunbridge Wells and brought the ‘bench buddi’ to a city park

His father, who was a director of a social worker, “a really good guy” was diagnosed with what was then called manic depression and also had addiction issues. Unfortunately, he committed suicide, which made Seth sensitive to the well-being of others. Seth worked for the Centrepoint charity from the age of 18 and ran homeless shelters, including the 80-bed one at Convent Garden. He also co-founded and managed The Dragon Cafe in Southwark, which is described on its website as “a highly effective creative and social antidote to loneliness and isolation”.

He said shelter management was “heavy” due to some problems in the capital. Now, with “some savings”, he wants to help others as an individual, which gives him the freedom to work on his own projects, like his first bench buddi.

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The bench is solid “sustainably sourced” oak with hand chiselled lettering. His attention to every detail is evident when the “user-friendly” font was underlined – “it’s sanscript,” he said, running his fingers along the engraving.

He’s a great character but he said he didn’t want the bench to be the “Seth show”. Indeed, he admitted, despite appearances, he can find long interactions anxiety-provoking and sometimes tiring.

Admit loneliness

When Kent Live visited the bench, it was clear people were drawn to him, as during our interview many people stopped by to chat. Seth intends to be on the bench – for a 10 minute chat of course – for an hour a day for the rest of May, right now it’s 12-1pm, but he can do a 7-8am slot and an evening slot, in an attempt to talk to different people.

Then he will decide how best to proceed. “I want to de-stigmatize the need to talk to people. This need knows no class, age, race. You don’t even have to feel alone to want to talk – we are workhorses. We want interact.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t admit to wanting to talk about something. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to a random stranger about something. It’s that neutrality. You might never see them again,” said Seth, who says he has “fantastic” friends and family.

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Due to his previous work with charities and vulnerable people, he is well aware of protection issues, so the bench is aimed at adults. He’s not “heavily into” social media, preferring to see people face-to-face. He is also not a fan of certain behaviors on these platforms.

“I don’t think that necessarily encourages people to be nice. Why would I put that on myself? So 50 people can say something hurtful? I’d rather focus on what we have in common than about what differences we may have,” he said. mentioned.

He said that in his first hour-long sessions, he chatted with about five people each day. “I’m in on it. My analogy is nobody wants to be the first person on the dance floor. I’m terrified of dancing. You might not think so, but I am.

“No one wants to be first but when they do, everyone gets up. I’m the first person on the dance floor here on this bench, but I want to encourage everyone to get up for a boogie!” he said.

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