| Helen Sharp
Case study: The Public Living Room
Worthing’s first ever public living room has recently had its home at beach hut 72. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the public living room, they are an idea invented by the clever people at Camerados. They are a comfortable place where anyone can come, on good days and bad, to be around people, make connections and enjoy being out of the house. Worthing is a seaside town on the south coast, so what better place to have their’s than looking out to sea.
It’s a ‘third space’ that is not about accessing services, but also not about sitting alone in a cafe trying to strike up a conversation. (Councillor Val Turner)
Sophie Whitehouse from Adur and Worthing Councils contacted Camerados on hearing about the idea through Twitter. She was sent a Public Living Room in a Box – essentially a ‘how-to’ guide for people wanting to create their own. In collaboration with Worthing Churches Homeless Project, they kitted it out with home comforts. This included games, magazines and drawing materials for children. They promoted it across the area and waited to see what happened.
Over the two months that the beach hut was open, it was visited by over 50 people. Some came with cakes and crafts, others dropped in for a chat and one man collecting driftwood was offered the chance to pick up driftwood from someone’s garden. Many of the visitors were older residents taking their daily walk along the seafront.
Sophie says many of the stories they listened to were insightful and poignant; however, in particular, people spoke about their loneliness and isolation. It was interesting that this was raised as an issue for people living in what is considered to be a relatively affluent part of Worthing. It challenges the often held assumption that isolation mainly affects deprived areas.
Worthing isn’t the only area trialling this type of space. There are others across the UK and around the world including Belfast, Malmo, Glasgow, Baltimore and Melbourne. For those interested in receiving a Public Living Room in a Box, Sophie advises not to over-think it and to ensure it is situated in the heart of the community; this doesn’t need to be the town centre.
The Public Living Room is only the start for this small seaside town. Following its success, Adur and Worthing Councils are keen to seek other ways to connect people locally and build community from the inside out.