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02 Jul 2022

IN PICTURES: Benches made by Portlaoise prisoners given to Laois communities

People feeling lonely and isolated in Laois now have more opportunities to talk to others, thanks to a kind gesture by inmates of Portlaoise Prison Campus.

The Midlands Prison has handed out 20 beautiful timber benches to Tidy Towns groups across Laois and Kildare.

The large medium security prison introduced the ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench initiative to its prisoners over the past year.  

‘Happy to Chat Benches’ began in the UK in 2019 and are starting to spread around the world. The benches are an invitation to engage with a stranger, all carrying a plaque with the wording Happy to Chat. 

The Work Training Unit in the Midlands Prison made 20 ‘Happy to Chat’ benches for local Tidy Towns groups.

Chief Work Training Officer is Joyce Clarke.

“Over the last nine months, Work Training Officers (WTO’s) and prisoners engaged on this project, from design to production
of these benches.

“I contacted the following Tidy Towns, Portlaoise, Durrow, Mountrath, Mountmellick, Abbeyleix, Portarlington, Vicarstown Stradbally Timahoe Fitness Hub, Monasterevin, Kildare, Athy and Rathangan. All local committees were delighted to engage with us on this project. We hope that these benches will help to reduce loneliness and isolation in our communities”.

On Friday June 10 these local Tidy Towns came into Midlands Prison for the launch of the ‘Happy to Chat’ bench.

John Scully is from the SVT Activity and Wellness Hub.

“We thank Midlands Prison most sincerely for their donation of the Happy to Chat benches. To complement the development of the Barrow Blueway by the Grand Canal in Vicarstown, we have been busy with parkrun, with the provision of the Vicarstown Canal-side Community Recreation Area, and also the provision of the new Canoeing and Kayaking Club facility. These benches further enhance the area,” he said.

Portlaoise Tidy Towns announced where their two benches will go.

"Trying out our new “Buddy Bench” on our visit to Portlaoise Midlands Prison. We received two of these benches, which will be placed in locations around the Southern Ring Road. They will encourage people to stop, sit down and talk to someone," they said.

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