Loneliness can kill.

Feelings of loneliness affect five million people in the UK - and it has been linked to suicide, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s and ill health.

But now a small, unlikely weapon is being used by a charity in the fight against it – a simple coffee ‘chat mat’.

Friends of the Elderly are raising awareness of the mat created by social enterprise Coffee Companions, on which the phrase “say hello and come have a chat” is written.

The aim is that people will put it on their table when having a drink in a cafe alone, to encourage others to talk to them.

Chloe Glover took one to Huddersfield’s coffee shops to see how well it works as a social experiment and talk to people about their own experiences of loneliness.

See how Chloe got on with the chat mat in Huddersfield town centre

Video thumbnail, Chloe Glover's loneliness social experiment
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Loneliness is still very much a taboo.

Many people are still afraid to admit to struggling with the feeling, making it easy for others to overlook.

But with a continually ageing population who are more likely to live alone, the problem looks set to get worse unless it is tackled head on.

While several charities now offer volunteer befriending schemes and social outings, the novel coffee mat idea puts the power for change in one’s own pocket.

The social experiment started in Coffee Cali on Huddersfield’s Piazza.

I placed the mat, a bit bigger than your average coaster, at the front edge of my table, facing the counter and front door.

I hoped it would be sufficiently appealing to offset my rather cheesy smile.

An example paper version of the Coffee Companions chat mat that have been designed to encourage people to talk to each other while having a drink in a public place

The first five minutes ticked by with not so much as a glance in my direction.

Perhaps I did not look that in need of pick-me-up chat.

I resisted getting my phone out – looking busy was not going to help my cause.

Another five minutes passed by.

Several people were also sat on their own around me but they were more fixated on what was happening through the windows or in the papers than on my sign.

Those who walked past did not give it a second glance either.

It seemed like everyone was either happy with their own company or too busy to have a chat.

But after deciding to take the sign with me to the tables of other solo drinkers, I discovered this may not always be the case.

Enid O’Reilly, 81, was surprised but happy when I struck up a conversation with her.

Enid O'Reilly, talked about her experience of loneliness

“I’m not one for initiating a conversation in a public place but I like to have a chat if anyone wants one,” she said.

Enid makes a regular habit of catching the bus into town as a social activity since she was widowed.

She sees her daughters frequently but still suffers with loneliness.

“I suppose I get used to it but it’s still awful,” she said.

“I started to feel alone when my husband died some years since.

“I’ve just carried on day by day. I find it hard at times.

“It’s having nobody to talk to when you’re used to chatting.

“I like having a chat with people but I find it a bit awkward to approach people to have one.”

After a nice conversation, I bid farewell and moved across to Cynthia Roberts, sat alone at a different table.

She also experienced loneliness.

“I experience a different sort of loneliness because I have bipolar, so when I’m high I crave company,” she said.

“I don’t initiate conversations but I smile at people and will talk to them if they begin.

“I come across a lot of lonely people.

“Look at those who have to sleep on the streets in Huddersfield.

“I always ask how they are doing.

“I think loneliness is going to get worse in the UK as people get older.”

I decided to move on to another coffee shop in Sainsbury’s Shorehead store.

I did not have much luck with leaving my mat on the table there either.

It was not surprising in retrospect, seeing as not many people yet know to look out for one.

But more cuppa drinkers were happy to tell me about their experiences.

Sharron Grady, a care worker, takes out adults who are affected by loneliness at home.

Sharron Grady, a careworker, gave her views on loneliness

She gave her view on why people may not strike up a conversation with a stranger when out and about.

“I think there are a number of reasons,” she said.

“It could be down to their health or because they don’t want to bother anybody.

“If someone gets ignored when they try start a conversation it can make them feel worse.

“It’s the negative response back that stops them doing it again, which is a shame.

“We need to encourage people to have the confidence to just keep being friendly and trying to talk to each other.

“If they get knocked back, they should just try again with someone else.

“At the end of the day, interacting with someone makes both people feel less lonely.

“Saying hi and having a chat is just a little thing that can make someone feel good for the day.”

Let's be honest. Having not one person notice the mat, let alone sit with me and strike up a conversation because of it, I can't say it worked as intended.

But it became a useful conversation opener on the subject of loneliness when I took it to other people's tables.

And perhaps the simple process of deciding I wanted a chat and putting the mat on my table was what really mattered in the end anyway.

It somehow gave me more confidence to strike up a conversation even if people didn't come to me.