New friendships are flourishing in the midst of blooming flowers in the Rose Garden with the arrival of two henna-patterned benches for public use.
The friendship benches, donated by the Northland Indian Association, were blessed at Cafler Park on Saturday and the idea behind the concept is to combat social isolation in the community.
Association chairman Ralph Correa said the issue of social isolation was raised by his members and the Whangārei District Council's Positive Ageing Advisory Group earlier this year.
The issue could be common among ethnic groups settling in Whangārei, he said.
The friendship bench, a village concept, is simple yet effective. People can sit and share the space with someone who is open to have a chat, listen, share stories and make friends. All ages, cultures and abilities can participate.
Correa said the concept was tested in the central library on the International Day of Older Adults and was well received.
The bench was also presented at Diwali celebrations, held on October 12, at Forum North attended by 500 people.
Correa said people are busy and have less time to stop and have a chat.
"There is a growing epidemic of social isolation, especially after the 'stranger danger' days. It may sound like a strong term, but social isolation is a potential danger for many of us.
"Simple tools like a friendship bench could be the highlight of someone's day and make a real difference. It's a phrase we may associate with older people when they become less active and able to engage in their community, but social isolation can easily occur at any age," he said.
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His association is accepting donations to introduce friendship benches to other areas of Whangārei.
For further information or to make a donation, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.