Next time you spot Margaret Johnson sitting in The Kitchen, why not pull up a chair and say hello?
The 78-year-old is the woman behind Storyhouse’s weekly Chatter and Natter which offers people the chance to enjoy a good conversation over a cuppa.
While we live in a world where we have more forms of communication available to us than ever before, many of us are missing out much-needed personal interaction which is where initiatives like Chatter and Natter come in.
The Thursday morning event is part of the nationwide Chatty Café scheme, and Margaret has been the warm and welcoming host for the past 18 months.
“I had a call one day saying the person who ran it was on holiday and would I come and do it instead?” she explains.
“I haven’t missed a week since. I’ve had one holiday in all that time; I tend to work my holidays around Chatter and Natter. I’m a bit dedicated to it to be honest, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
Margaret brings the empathy she developed over a long career as a nurse to her current role, acting as host to the one to eight people who tend to stop at her table for a natter each week.
One of Chatter and Natter’s regulars is Elma Whyte, 90 this month, who has lived on her own since her husband passed away three years ago and who says she relishes her Thursday mornings at Storyhouse.
“I think there are a lot of lonely people that might not know Margaret is here,” she suggests. “They probably come in and sit on their own and never realise.
“It costs me £14 return by taxi to come here, and I also do some shopping while I’m in the city centre. I think there must be lots of people who live on their own like me who would benefit.”
Although many of those who come for some company are from the older generation, Margaret’s approachable attitude attracts a range of people who either crave some human contact – or are looking for help.
She says: “One week a student from Mexico who was feeling homesick came and had a chat.
“And one day a young Polish guy came in and said to me – is there anywhere I can go to find lodgings? I explained to him where to go for help, and three weeks later he came back to thank me. He’d found somewhere to live at Blacon.
“If people come to me and ask me a question, I try my best to help them.”
The only rule she has is that she won’t approach people herself to ask if they want to join her.
Along with Chatter and Natter, Margaret is also involved in general volunteering including stewarding duty at Storyhouse shows – a particular pleasure for a woman with a lifelong passion for theatre.
In fact, she and her best friend from school enjoyed regular theatre trips together until her friend, sadly, developed Alzheimer’s. So when Margaret heard Storyhouse was due to open, she decided to invest in a host of tickets.
And it was while she was waiting to watch a matinee performance one afternoon that she got talking with a Storyhouse volunteer who suggested she should join their ranks.
Margaret recalls: “The next thing was she fetched the volunteer manager who took my email. And a week or two afterwards I was a volunteer. I’ve never looked back.”
Chatter and Natter might help the people who drop by each week but being involved in the life of Storyhouse has proved just as rewarding for Margaret.
She explains: “I come here four of five times a week. Everybody is lovely, and it’s a family to me. It keeps you young in mind.
“It’s good to meet different people and it gives you a reason to get up in the morning and go out. I live on my own. My sons are in Manchester, but they have busy lives. So this is good for me as well – I get so much out of it.
“Now I’m volunteering I don’t have time to think about my day. I even have to make an appointment to see my son I’m so busy!”
As for Chatter and Natter?
Margaret smiles: “I’m happy to do this for as long as they want me to.”