Unique chair designed to combat loneliness in running for award

Cadair Sgwrs (Conversation Chair) unveiled by housing association Cartrefi Conwy today (Tuesday, August 6) at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst. Pictured are residents who created some of the artwork Renee Owen, Megan Burnell and Annabella Orr.

A unique chair that’s been designed to combat loneliness by encouraging people to sit down and talk to each other has put a housing association in the running for a top award.

The Cadair Sgwrs (Chatting Chair) project launched by Cartrefi Conwy has been shortlisted for one of the top honours at the prestigious Arts and Business Cymru Awards.

They have been nominated in the Arts, Business and Community category and the winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony on Friday, October 9.

The chair was unveiled at the National  Eisteddfod in Llanrwst last year when the Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd wrote  a special englyn – a four-line strict metre verse – in praise of the project.

The event was also attended by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis-Thomas

The chair was created with the help of Cartrefi Conwy tenants and local schoolchildren, guided by top artist Catrin Williams and bespoke furniture maker Rhodri Owen.

The intergenerational project was made possible by part-funding from Arts & Business Cymru’s CultureStep programme.

At the eisteddfod Myrddin ap Dafydd commended the Cadair Sgwrs as a way of promoting social inclusion.

said: “I think this is a great idea. I love the fact that encouraging conversation is being done via a chair which links in so well with the National Eisteddfod for which chairs are hugely symbolic.”

When it is safe the chair will hopefully become a symbol of friendship, a talking point, encouraging people to sit down, have a chat, make friends and socialise at housing estates managed by Cartrefi Conwy.

The vibrantly coloured chair is enveloped in a stunning outer surface comprising a compilation of more than 80 artworks created by tenants of Cartrefi Conwy and Clwyd Alyn housing associations, members of Llanrwst Men’s Shed group, and pupils of Ysgol Bro Gwydir, Llanrwst.

It is made out of polystyrene and fibre glass materials in what is a change of direction for carpenter and furniture maker Rhodri, of Ysbyty Ifan, who also made the Bardic Chair for the 2017 National Eisteddfod. He traditionally works with wood.

He designed the chair in collaboration with artist Catrin Williams, a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy, who is based on the Llyn Peninsula.

Catrin was commissioned by Cartrefi Conwy to work with about 20 tenants and other volunteers who agreed to help with the Cadair Sgwrs project.

During the project they met at  Hafan Gwydir Extra Care housing, Llanrwst, to produce a selection of artwork which was collated together to form the unique overall design now permanently embossed onto the chair. Their artwork was based around the key themes of what makes them happy and what community means to them.

Nerys Veldhuizen, Cartrefi Conwy’s Older Person’s Engagement Officer, was delighted the innovative project had been recognised by the judging panel.

She said: “In a sense, the Cadair Sgwrs is a distillation of the ethos of Cartrefi Conwy in creating communities to be proud of.

“The tenants and the children produced art pieces that paint a picture of what makes them happy and what community means to them.

“We believe that Cadair Sgwrs will strengthen communities by building social networks and enabling people from different backgrounds and ages, who may not otherwise meet, to come together and form connections and friendships.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Cartrefi Conwy Chief Executive Andrew Bowden who added: “We are very proud that this imaginative inter-generational project has reached the Arts & Business Cymru shortlist and we will be keeping our fingers crossed on the night of the awards.”

At the eisteddfod, one of the Cartrefi Conwy residents involved in creating the artwork Annabella Orr, of Scotland Street, Llanrwst, said: “I’m so proud to have had the chance to be part of this. No matter where it goes we will always be able to say we played a part in the making of that chair. And the reason for its creation, combatting loneliness is so important.

“I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of this and have made some good new friends because of it.”

Another Cartrefi Conwy resident Tilly Goodwin, 79, also of Scotland Street, whose art appears on the chair, said: “It is a great idea to help combat loneliness in such a novel way.

“There are so many people these days who live alone and don’t see a soul throughout the day. Some can be quite shy or reserved and might not like to join a group, but this is such a simple way for them to meet with neighbours and make friends just by sitting together on a chair. The fact that it is covered with all our artwork gives them an immediate talking point..”

Independent Living Manager Ceri Twist added: “It has been  a lovely project to work on because it has already brought people together and new friendships have been made and we hope it will be an effective tool in helping to combat loneliness in our communities.”