Founder of 'chat benches' to tackle loneliness honoured
A police officer who came up with the concept of "chat benches" to combat loneliness has been appointed an MBE in the New Year Honours.
Det Sgt Ashley Jones of Avon and Somerset Police introduced the idea of designated benches where anyone can stop and have a conversation.
It started in Burnham-on-Sea last year and has since spread across Europe and to Australia and North America.
He said he was "shocked" and "very humbled" to become an MBE.
Mr Jones, 49, who is originally from Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, said he thought of the idea after meeting an elderly woman who had been defrauded of money by a con artist over the phone.
"Having spoken to Sylvia, I realised that the underlying issue, why she got taken in by this deception, was because of chronic loneliness," he said.
"She was 89, she had no living family members and she was extremely isolated.
"She knew she was being taken for a ride, but she was so lonely that she was prepared to go along with the situation... just so she could have human contact,
"That's what set me off on the crusade of trying to make an alternative for people who may be lonely."
The benches, which are adopted by local communities, have signs on them to let people know that anyone sitting there is happy to talk.
Before joining Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2006 Mr Jones worked for Gwent Police in various roles, including patrol and neighbourhood roles.
The honour has been awarded "for services to charity and to older people in South West England and South Wales".