Training With Friendship Bench! An Enlightening Experience.

ho knew learning could be enjoyable. We danced, laughed, played games and took a lot of pictures!


Where to start, the interview. I sat waiting anxiously for the interview, thoughts racing; was I dressed right, what questions were they going to ask, should I have prepared more, what am I doing here… It’s true what they say, our minds can make mountains out of mole hills.

I was pleasantly surprised! There the Friendship Bench team arrived with friendly smiles and warm greetings, phew! In the interview it felt like I was talking to old friends, I don’t remember most of what I said because they made it conversational, as opposed to me with my inner thoughts ‘is this a trick question’ what is the ‘right’ response they want. In no time at all we were done and I was given my travelling letter and training schedule.


As I recovered from the interview nerves so started training nervousness, it was great we started off the day early and so I was quickly put at ease when I arrived at the venue and was greeted by the Friendship Bench Grandmothers and a few Grandfathers. Excitement was in the air, everyone eager and happy to be part of this training.

After a Circle Kubatana Tose round where everyone introduced themselves and shared how they were feeling we went straight into the first module which was ‘kufungisisa’ the Shona term for depression and anxiety. I was enlightened! I didn’t know that this disease was so common, imagine 1 in 4 people will suffer from a CMD at some point of their life!  Neither did I realise it could affect anyone, whether young or old, high income or low income; this was a needed eye opener. We also really came to understand how necessary a community-based intervention like the Friendship Bench is for all of us to have access to.

Training progressed well, each day was a new learning day and trainers kept checking in on if we we’re grasping the concept, especially the problem-solving steps at the core of the intervention.  Their constant check ins meant the morning evaluations were a time to refine what we learnt the previous day and not something to get anxious over.  These nerves are a constant theme in my life!

Then the role plays, this was a push I didn’t know I needed but I am unbelievably grateful for them! I went from being the little shy introvert to taking stage, my confidence went up a notch and the trainers reaffirmed that what I was doing was right. I’m sure the trainers recognized I needed a confidence boost because on day 5 I had to give a presentation on mental health. Something I would never have managed before but I did it! And I enjoyed it! AND, I now know I am capable of more than I think.


Final day of training, day 8 of 8, no one wanted the training to end, we had spent an intense past 7 days learning together, sharing stories and soaking up the Grandmothers experiences. Who knew learning could be enjoyable. We danced, laughed, played games and took a lot of pictures! Although it was great to pass and get our certificates it was also so sad to be closing off our training, but equally underlying excitement to be able to get out into the community and let people know that mental health care is accessible and available for all.

My heartfelt thanks goes to Mbuya Chengetayi, Mbuya Bernice, Mbuya Charmaine and Mbuya Tendayi, because of you guys, I can now be called a Mbuya too!

The Listening Bench, with Layman Human

LONDON, Battersea Park, near to the Peace Pagoda, Thursdays 10.30-1.30

BE A PART OF THE GLOBAL HEALING. Listening matters! Being heard means being seen and acknowledged, as humans we all need this to feel we belong in this world. More often than not, when people share their struggles they are not looking for someone to give them a solution or to fix the issue, they are merely looking to connect and let free the noise and turmoil whirling around within them. We can only survive for so long with a plastered smile and ‘I’m fine’ response, at some point it catches up.

If you’re in London, around Battersea Park, near to the Peace Pagoda, Thursdays 10.30-1.30, visit the Listening Bench! Read on to find out more… 🙂

Hello, my name is Stuart Frobisher. I’m also Layman Human, I’m a musician from London, UK, and I’m honoured to have been asked to contribute to the Friendship Bench Zimbabwe blog!

My background is that I am a pianist/singer-songwriter, I have taught music in Inner London schools for 22 years, I have practised Zen for 7 years, and I studied Humanistic Counselling Skills at Gestalt centre in London on a 1-year course. And I am a grandfather (not a grandmother, unfortunately).  I have learned and practised to listen, to hear people’s needs, and to empathise, not to analyse or dispense wisdom. People will find their own way if they are given space and support. There have been times in my life when that was what happened for me, and it was so important.

A few months ago I realised I wanted to start a Public Listening Service. I basically wanted to sit on a bench in a park, and if someone wants to talk, I will listen. I wanted to use what I seem to have learned from my life so far, which is: knowing that someone else cares and will hear me, can be enough to give me the strength to find my way. People have done it for me when I needed it, I have been lucky. I wanted to give it back. It seems like more and more people have no-one to talk to. They don’t necessarily need psychological intervention, just someone they can open up to, maybe to get a handle on their worries or problems.

I thought about some guidelines for myself, and wondered just how to get started. Then one night, my wife was listening to BBC Radio, and she heard about the amazing and powerful project of The Friendship Bench. When she told me about it in the morning, I said, that’s it! That’s exactly what I mean!

I wrote to everyone at the Friendship Bench to ask for some advice and support, and also to offer anything I could by way of help for them, if that was something that was possible. I was so moved when Dixon replied personally, within a day. Inspired by Dixon’s communications, and the further great support from Jean, I have been energised to see my idea through.

So last week was my second visit to the bench I have chosen as ‘The Listening Bench.’ It’s along the river Thames in Battersea Park, near to the Peace Pagoda. I go on Thursdays from 10.30 – 1.30.

Even though no-one has stopped yet, I am encouraged by the interest my sign is getting. I also made some cards for people to take. This is what is on the card:

I’m looking forward to a Listening Bench conversation, knowing that the evidence is all there from Friendship Bench Zimbabwe, that it really is good to talk. People are suffering in our city as everywhere, but there is also a great movement for healing. If I can be a small part of that healing, connecting with people and providing a way for people to be heard, I will be a happy man.

Thank you to all the Grandmothers and to Friendship Bench Zimbabwe for your inspiration and encouragement. Peace and Love!

Layman Human, Stuart Frobisher – The Listening Bench