Sam Wilmot has been rating benches on Instagram since June 2019. He gave this bench in Bristol, England, a 6/10 in December. “It’s a big and strong bench with plenty of places to sit and a view of the lake,” he wrote.
A pandemic is raging. Political rancor is festering across the globe. Wildfires are eating away our precious natural resources, and the grocery store is still out of paper towels. Everything is, in a word, terrible.
Let’s forget all of that for a moment. Come, take a seat on this bench, and breathe.
This moment of bench-based clarity is brought to you by Sam Wilmot, a 23-year-old from a small town outside of Bristol, England. Through his Instagram project “Rate This Bench,” Wilmot does what it says on the tin: He rates benches. It’s not that complicated. But like a good bench-sitting session, a scroll through “Rate This Bench” unearths some fun facts, some fascinating banter, and some lovely views.
A quirky idea becomes a community
Wilmot started “Rate This Bench” a little more than a year ago when he was getting his master’s degree at Swansea University.
“It started out as a joke with friends,” he said. “We were out one day at university, and I started commenting on the benches we see. And we thought, that would be a quirky idea for an Instagram page. Then it started to be quite in-depth.”
A bench, after all, is an endless source of creative potential, and Wilmot took that spirit and ran with it. Now the whole project has a devoted following and a very specific aesthetic. Each post is topped with Wilmot sitting stoically on a bench, and it features in-depth notes of the bench’s attributes and surroundings. And, of course, no adjudication would be complete without photos of what one actually sees when they sit on it.
How to rate a bench
Make no mistake: Wilmot takes the business of rating benches very seriously.
“I really break it down into 10 marks,” he said. “Three marks for the view and location. Marks for being wooden.” (“They are comfortable and sturdy,” he explained.)
“If there’s curvature to the seat, something that offers some way to relieve pressure on your bum, that’s good. Or a concrete base to stop your shoes from getting dirty.”
Marks are also given for back rests, arm rests and dedication plaques or inscriptions.
A quick tour of the more than 180 benches he’s rated reveal other judge preferences: Perfunctory or carelessly built benches are poorly received, as are benches that have dividing railings or other features that Wilmot describes as “anti-homeless.” (These features are often installed to keep people from lying down, and are shunned in many architecture and city planning communities.)
Good benches tend to have some history, some ergonomics and nice surroundings. But no bench has ever received that coveted 10/10 rating.
“The final mark, which I’ve never really given, is the one that makes you go ‘Wow,’ ” Wilmot said.
Will he ever give that rating? Who knows. But it’s a good way, he says, of keeping expectations in check.
“I don’t want to be too critical,” he said. “I try to remain sort of impartial.”
A moment of respite
While he hasn’t come across a platonically perfect bench, Wilmot still has his favorites.
“There’s one in a little place where I live, a place called Old Sodbury. It’s got a really nice base, it looks out across the countryside and my town, and it’s at the church,” he said. “I’ve given it a 9.”
He also has a fondness for a bench in his town dedicated to a young man who lost his life in a traffic accident. “It’s massive,” he said. “Probably the biggest bench I’ve ever rated.”
Wilmot’s bench-rating quest isn’t one he maps out. He goes with the flow, and when he comes across an interesting bench he just sits on it and, well, goes from there. The fact that people love his posts for the humor and the views — whether political or pastoral — is just proof that bench content is an untapped source of comfort in these trying times.
“Things are pretty gloomy at the moment with everything going on. Across the sea here, our own people are just looking for something a little bit different,” he said.
Maybe that’s what we all need right now: A little chat, a little humor, and a nice place to sit.
Sam Wilmot has been rating benches since June 2019. Follow “Rate This Bench” on Instagram.
Editors: Bernadette Tuazon, Brett Roegiers and Kyle Almond