'Let's get people talking': Meet the woman helping lonely people in Burnley and Pendle connect

A Burnley woman who wants to get people talking has been left speechless following the response to her kind-hearted idea aimed at banishing the stigma of loneliness.
Tracey SmithTracey Smith
Tracey Smith

Tracey Smith started the 'Natter Shack Scheme', which gives people the chance to have a drink and a chat with someone else in the same position in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in a bid to combat loneliness and social isolation, after an elderly stranger struck up conversation with her while she was out.

She posted the idea on Facebook and was quickly inundated with responses from bars, cafes and pubs all offering their venues as a space to hold events.

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"I was at the Lounge in Barrowford and this lady, who was sat near me and my daughter, started talking to me," said Tracey, who is deputy manager at the East Lancashire Hospitals Trust telephone booking centre. "I could tell she wanted to talk to somebody and we ended up chatting for ages.

A Natter Shack event is held at the Ace Centre, Nelson, every Tuesday.A Natter Shack event is held at the Ace Centre, Nelson, every Tuesday.
A Natter Shack event is held at the Ace Centre, Nelson, every Tuesday.

"Shortly after, another lady came over talking to me. I found out that these two ladies came in quite often and just sit there by themselves. I couldn't believe it.

"It got me thinking how many other people are out there that may be retired/lost a loved one or just lonely that would love to have lunch or a coffee.

"The response has been overwhelming. At first I was contacting venues, asking them if they would be up for it but now they're getting in touch with me. I have 15 signed up at the minute and I've had to put some on a waiting list because we want to see it is making a difference to people and the events are being utilised.”

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The Natter Shack has been running for three weeks and Tracey, of Bamburgh Drive, Burnley, said there had been around eight people on average attending each event. Friendships are forming and telephone numbers are being swapped. She really hopes as the word spreads more people will attend in the future.

Fifteen venues are currently signed up to host Natter Shack eventsFifteen venues are currently signed up to host Natter Shack events
Fifteen venues are currently signed up to host Natter Shack events

"This isn't just aimed at elderly people. There may be young mums out there who have just had a baby and have found themselves isolated. This is for all sorts and all ages, both women and men.

"I had one message from an event in Padiham last week that said a woman had gone to one of the events there after spending a week trying to pluck up the courage. She loved it and said she was going to come back. It actually made me quite emotional. Some are now going to three events a week.

"We want to tap into as many people as possible. I want more feedback as well because I want others, who may be a bit scared, to know there is hope."

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And it's not just in Burnley and Pendle where the Natter Shack is making itself heard.

"A woman from Burnley who lives in Illinois, America, has contacted me asking if she can try and set one up out there. And one of my friends, who lives in Poole, Dorset, has also asked me if she can use the Natter Shack name and logo down there.

"I've heard that there are other similar schemes but there's a fee to join some of them. That's not what I'm about or what the Natter Shack will be about. This is about being inclusive.

"In the long-term, ideally I would want to target CCGs and have this prescribed by GPs. We'll see what happens though. At the moment we went to get as many people as possible talking."

Here is a list of the latest Natter Shack venues and times:

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Make sure you like 'Natter Shack Scheme' on Facebook for regular updates.

Monday The Village Hall at Bookswap, Fence, 2 – 4pm Tuesday The Bridge Inn, Padiham: 12-30 – 4pm; free tea and coffeeThe Ace Centre, Cross Street, Nelson: 2 3pmWednesdayThe Kings Arms, Padiham: 3pm onwardsThe Bridge Inn, Padiham: 6 – 8pm; free tea and coffeeThe Lounge, Barrowford: 10 – 11amThe Cabin, Barley picnic site: 2 – 3pm.Pavillion, Alkincoats Park, Colne: 11am – noon.ThursdayThe Orange Door, Skipton Rd, Barnoldswick: 1 – 3pm.The Mooch Café 87, Padiham: 10 – 11amEadies Kitchen, Albert Road, Colne: 10 – 11amThe Commercial, Harle Syke: 6 – 8pm.FridayNo 41 Earby, 41 Victoria Road , Earby: 1 – 3-30pm.Krafty Cow Tea Room, 16 Boot Way, Burnley: 11 – noon.Marsden Park Café, Walton Lane, Nelson: 2 – 3-30pm.