First published in the Saddleworth Independent
A YOUNG mother from Lees whose spearheaded a now nationwide scheme to combat loneliness and encourage social interaction has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Alexandra Hoskyn, 36, founded the Chatty Café in 2017 after visiting a supermarket café with her then four-month-old son Henry and longing for some social interaction rather than sitting alone and fed up.
The initiative provides a safe and quiet space in cafes for people to talk and have a natter and quickly gained traction in her local community.
And after an appearance on Kay Burley’s popular Sky TV show it started to take off, with businesses across the UK signing up.
Alexandra admits the news of her prestigious accolade is still sinking in and if it were not for an unexpected phone call she may never have known she had been awarded the OBE at all.
She explained: “I got a call from the Cabinet Office a few weeks ago telling me that they needed an urgent response to an email they had sent me.
“When I asked, I told them the address they had sent it to was an old one and if they could tell me what it was about, because at that point my mind was racing.
“That’s when they said I had been awarded the OBE and they needed to know, as a matter of urgency, if I intended to accept it.
“I had absolutely no idea that was what they were going to say. I was so gobsmacked; I still am to be honest! I keep thinking it’s all an elaborate hoax but I’m sure when I actually see it, it will sink in.”
The scheme even caught the attention of company bosses at popular chain Costa Coffee, with whom Chatty Café is now officially partnered.
But during the coronavirus pandemic, with businesses forced to close under lockdown conditions, the scheme had to innovative and evolve to continue providing support.
Alexandra explained: “My gut reaction when Covid hit was that we needed to be even more present than we already were before.
“So, like the Chatter and Natter tables in cafés, we started doing weekly phone calls and at first it was a handful of people referring elderly relatives.
“But then that started to really take off to the point where we now have just under 200 volunteers all over the country making upwards of 250 calls per week.
“We’ve also expanded into doing Chatty Café Zoom calls, which is also becoming just as popular, and what’s amazing is that through these channels people are starting to form real life friendships.”