By Sean Tunnicliffe, Communications Officer, Leeds Older People’s Forum

“There are many benefits to more seating: as well as helping shoppers, seating will encourage more older people to go out thus providing them with opportunities for social interaction, reducing loneliness. The shops also benefit as these people are more likely to use them, boosting their profits.”
Simon Peyton, Standing up for Sitting Down

Don’t take it lying down

LOPF was recently contacted by one of our members who had visited a new shopping arcade which had opened in Leeds. This person has an arthritic hip and so after walking around for a while needed to sit down.

This might seem a reasonable and sensible thing to do but unfortunately this brand new shopping centre contains no public seating so the person was unable to rest there and so had to walk further to find a seat.

Rather than leave it at that the person contacted us to ask if this something that LOPF can pursue under the Age Friendly City work.

WHO Guidance for age friendly cities

The World Health Organisation has published guidance for age-friendly cities, which includes the need for public benches that provided resting spots for the elderly.

Without these, the WHO says, many older people feel trapped indoors, unable to travel to the local shops and isolated from visiting friends and family on foot.

Don’t shop ‘till you drop

It seems bizarre that people can design a new shopping centre without giving any consideration for public seating but this issue seems to be getting raised more and more and I am at a loss to understand what the thinking is behind this.

Community seating in shopping centres make them more accessible and makes more people use them. It’s not just older people who like to sit down; there are people with mobility issues, people with young children and people of all ages who like to just watch the world go by.

Not everybody wants to buy a cup of coffee (other beverages are no doubt available) to do this, but sometimes it’s only the cafes which offer seating.

Easy on the eye but not on the legs

Something else I’ve noticed is that more and more public seating seems to be designed to be aesthetically pleasing rather than functional and comfortable (or alternatively is designed to discourage rough sleepers). A simple thing like a lack of arm rests can make it difficult for some people to get up.

Perversely when community seating does have more armrests it is often aimed at stopping homeless people from sleeping on them rather than helping people get up. British bus stops are also designed to be tough to sleep in which often results in seating that isn’t comfortable.

The message is spreading

Jane Robinson, who works for Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours (when not working for Leeds Bereavement Forum) has recently written a blog on the subject of community seating after investigating the seating choices in her local area which you can read here:

Phil Kirby also wrote on Culture Vultures with his take on the issue of public seating in Leeds City Centre:

If you have any views, thoughts or examples of areas with a lack of seating please contact me at [email protected]

 Standing up for sitting down

Anchor Housing is running a national campaign to improve community seating.

Standing Up 4 Sitting Down (#su4sd) is a national initiative aiming to improve people’s access to their local shops and high street by increasing the amount of seating available to those who need it.

They are looking for people and organisations to sign up to support the campaign

Further reading

The park bench: A powerful symbol in the debate for people-friendly spaces

The social value of public spaces

Vanishing seats turning high streets into standing-room-only zones