The Fairwater Fish Bar in Cwmbran is probably the best fish and chip shop in Wales, with chips made from real potatoes (none of this pre-mashed extruded stuff), crispy batter on incredibly fresh fish and a range of other delectables.  It’s a traditional take-way, so walking past the other morning I was surprised to see a group of older men inside sitting around a fold-away table in the corner drinking cups of tea and coffee. They looked so cheerful it reminded me of the Chat and Natter tables that had begun to spring up all over the country before the Covid Pandemic.  So, I popped in and asked everyone, including Rob the proprietor, if I could take a photograph.

Rob knows that I write books and blogs about older people, but I explained it to the group, adding that spending time together like this is one of the top medical recommendations for good health in later years.

‘What!’ said one, indicating the man in the next chair, ‘having to put up with him?’ There was a round of good natured banter, and as it was early and there were no customers, Rob brought over a cup of tea and joined them.  They’ve all long retired but still rise early and trickle down to the shop before most customers turn up.  ‘They’ve been coming down for a few years now, and there are others, too,’ Rob told me. ‘In the warmer weather the table and chairs are outside.’

Loneliness is one of the leading health hazards among older people, and poor mental health rose significantly during the Covid Pandemic.   A review of the literature on the effects of Covid on older people (Cureus, Pub Med, December 2022) confirmed that’ loneliness, stress, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and suicidal ideation symptoms were experienced by the elderly during the pandemic.’   The study adds that ‘interventions such as community activities through social interactions … could improve the quality of life of older people.’   It also improves their protection against dementia, as feelings of loneliness are known to increase the risk.

My guess is that the Fairwater Fish Bar Bunch have a different idea of ‘intervention’.  (‘You’re not from Social Services, are you?’ asked one.)  Their morning gathering is just something they do.  But a few years ago, in 2017, the benefits of people meeting in this way led to the introduction by Manchester City Council (MCC) of the ‘Chat and Natter tables’, a initiative that was gathering momentum throughout the country before being quashed when Covid struck.   The MCC’s website said, ‘We are looking for supermarket cafes, community cafes, large and small cafes to get involved so that just maybe we can make the Chatter & Natter table a part of everyday café culture.  Where customers can sit if they are happy to talk to other customers.

‘A Chatter & Natter table brings people together and everyone is invited! If you’re on your own, in a couple, with a friend, if you’re a carer why not sit there with who you care for, mums and babies, dads and babies, grandparents and babies, young people, older people and anyone in between!’

The scheme is reappearing in a small way, with the Chatty Café Scheme, an official non-profit organisation, encouraging places to sign up.  Perhaps we could all suggest it to supermarkets in our area.  ( has more information.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.