Have you ever wondered what would happen if you sat on a bench in Sackville Gardens and started talking to strangers? Who would you meet? What stories would you hear?
Conversations on a Bench is a BBC Radio 4 series which explores the stories of people who sit beside Anna Scott-Brown on benches all around the country.
Her choice for the latest episode was Manchester’s Sackville Gardens, a location which was especially poignant as the programme was broadcast 100 days after the Arena terror attack.
From a woman drinking to forget her troubled past to a potter using the park for inspiration, we get a glimpse of the lives of the people who took a seat.
One man and his ex-boyfriend are out walking a dog, pointing up at the luxury penthouse flats above.
Another man tells Scott-Brown about how he is using the bench to contemplate nature – something we often forget to do.
“I’m trying to take some inspiration from the trees,” he says. “Due to issues with anxiety and depression, I do my best to work with wood.”
Plenty of people come here to start afresh and feel part of something new, as Scott-Brown discovers when she sits next to some call centre workers who have just finished for the day.
“We are a massive family,” one woman reflects on recently starting the job. “I’ve just come up from London. I feel like they have genuinely pulled me out of a massive gutter.
“We all look after each other. People at work are on tag so we all got together to say – we’re not doing it till they come off tag – because some of them are on curfew.”
“Who put them on curfew?” asks Scott-Brown. “The government,” is the reply.
A man with schizophrenia insists, “You don’t want to speak to me” but tells his story anyway.
“I come from a part of the world where being gay is a sin,” says another. “I left a great amount of wealth, luxury, family and everything just to be me.”
One man reflects on how he managed to find positivity in his experience of loss and how other people can too.
“We went to watch a terrible film – Hook – when I was 12. My dad, I remember him saying he felt really warm and he just collapsed forward. It was a massive heart attack.
“The old adage that ‘time is a great healer’ is a complete lie. But what happens is that you transfer those emotions and you start to remember the times that brought happiness. Through all this pain, there’s still a positive in there.”
Conversations on a Bench unlocks some profound insights on life from the people of Manchester. You can listen to it here.