Meet the woman who brought happy benches to Hartlepool in her yellow van of love

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A woman is helping to spread kindness and combat loneliness across the UK by encouraging strangers to sit down and talk with each other.

Two years ago, Kelly Williams sold her house in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, to travel the country in what she calls her yellow van of love.

Stopping at old and new places, the former postwoman set about creating happy benches where she ties a note encouraging people to chat with others.

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These benches can be found at a number of locations across Hartlepool’s Headland including Croft Gardens, Albion Terrace and Elephant Rock.

Kelly Williams in her Yellow Van of Love.Kelly Williams in her Yellow Van of Love.
Kelly Williams in her Yellow Van of Love.

Kelly, 47, said: “In some communities, they are a focal point of the town and people come to them to meet.”

She added: “It’s a really nice way of bringing the community together, especially after the last few years.”

Kelly first started her journey in West Yorkshire before travelling up the East Coast of England, across Scotland and down the West Coast, meeting lots of different people along the way.

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In the summer months, Kelly also grows sunflowers in her yellow van which she gives to strangers she meets along the way.

One of Hartlepool's happy benches, in Albion Terrace, the Headland.One of Hartlepool's happy benches, in Albion Terrace, the Headland.
One of Hartlepool's happy benches, in Albion Terrace, the Headland.

She said: “I grow sunflowers in my van and then leave the sunflowers and some seeds on benches for people to take and grow their own.”

For two years now, Kelly has travelled across the UK, relying on donations to live out her dream on the road.

She said: “Being on the road is amazing because you get to see all of these amazing places but the reality is, I wake up every day living alone in a van.”

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Kelly built on the initiative by Alison Owen-Jones, who set up ‘happy to chat’ benches in Cardiff and which are now permanent features across the globe in countries including Ukraine, Canada, Australia and the US.

Kelly Williams sitting on a happy bench in Easington Colliery.Kelly Williams sitting on a happy bench in Easington Colliery.
Kelly Williams sitting on a happy bench in Easington Colliery.

In April, Kelly is branching out and taking her yellow van of love across Europe where she hopes to visit France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

She said: “We all have our own brave and it is just about finding things that make us happy.”

To keep up to date with Kelly on her travels, follow #theyellowvanoflove.

For more information or to donate your own happy bench, contact Kelly on thehappybenchproject@gmail.com.