Padiham's champion of the lonely and isolated on a mission to raise cash for 'friendship' bench on popular walkway

Vivien Storey was thinking about the welfare and mental health of others before anyone had even heard the word covid.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 3:45 pm

Passionate about helping people who may be struggling, 2019 saw Vivien successfully launch the Padiham Community Choir after she was touched by stories of many people in her hometown who felt lonely or isolated due to circumstances or lack of cash.

Offering hugs to choir members to lift their spirits Viv hit on the idea of taking this to a wider audience and Hugs For Free was born. This saw caring Viv and her good friend and choir member, Katie Bourgaise, offer hugs to people to cheer them up, a simple idea that became a huge success.

Launched in the Padiham Tesco store the duo were overwhelmed with the positive response to their idea to reach out to people who may feel sad, lonely or need support. They were invited to visit a number of care homes where they led sing-a-longs and offered hugs to residents and staff to brighten their day.

Viven (left) and Katie,who launched Hugs for Free last year to help combat loneliness and isolation, are planning to walk Padiham Greenway to raise money for a friendship bench

But the pandemic brought an abrupt end to both the choir and the hugs scheme.

But Viv, who works as a carer at Woodside Home for the Elderly in Padiham and a play leader at Blooming Buds childcare, is not a woman to be kept down and she is determined to reach out to people who may be struggling as lockdown tightens.

So she came up with the idea to walk the length of the Padiham Greenway 15 times, which is around 29 miles, to raise awareness of mental health.

The walk, which she expects to take 13 hours, will take place on December 5th and Viv, who will be joined by student nurse Katie, is hoping that other people will want to get involved, even if they only walk a portion of the route. And anyone who cannot get to the greenway could play their part by walking around their garden, back yard or their own local park.

The aim of the walk is to raise money for a 'friendship' bench to be sited on the greenway and Viv has set a fundraising target of £3,000 towards its cost.

Many schools have these benches where a child can sit if they feel upset for any reason and their friends' instinct is to check they are ok. The bench will be inscribed and dedicated to suicide victims and the loved ones they have left behind.

Viv, who is married to Justin and has a son Dale and grandson Frankie (five) said: "Our aim is that people see the bench as somewhere to go where they can sit and speak to a stranger if it helps them as it is important to talk.

"It would be absolutely amazing if we could raise the money to do this and hopefully more after it.

"So many people in the world are lost at the moment and more people than we could ever imagine are struggling with life, even though they may have many people in their lives and they may have beautiful families.

"Sometimes talking to a stranger on a day they feel unable to cope could be the difference between having the courage to face another day.

"Many people I know have daily struggles and sadly I have had people I love, and families of people I love and friends I have had in my life who found the struggle too hard to bear."

Viv has set up a gofundme fundraising page and anyone who would like to make a donation is asked to click HERE