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.
Wilmot sits outside the Winter Gardens in Weston-super-Mare, England, in December. “The bench was made of granite which was pretty cold,” he wrote. “The back rest was unusable as it meant shifting all the way back on the seat, resulting in your feet coming off the floor. I try (to) remain grounded at all times. The arm rests are nothing more than granite segments that are a skateboarding deterrent. Anti-fun. There was a paved base and a pleasant view to enjoy. 4/10.”
Wilmot rates a bench in Swansea, Wales, in June 2019. “A crescent shaped bench for the people out there getting sick of traditional benches. I’m not sure I’m the usual type to sit on this bench, this is the sort of place you could leave your door unlocked and somebody would put the milk in your tea and butter your toast whilst you nipped to the loo. No surprise the bench was half decent. It was stylish and well maintained, probably never sat on, and in a very quiet village. There was a plaque to read too! And no litter bin too close for comforts. Still, the lack of fundamentally important features of a bench keeps this at a 5/10.”
“This little corner in Ashton offers a great place to sit and enjoy the scent of lavender and the bees buzzing around the sunflowers,” Wilmot wrote in August 2019. “The view isn’t great but it’s a lovely idea. As for the bench, it’s plastic on an iron frame so there’s a moment of panic when you sit down and it moves ever so slightly. But it’s pleasant. 5/10.”
Wilmot works in his garden in April. “As benches go this isn’t one, no prizes for guessing it’s an old tree stump but it provides plenty of warmth from the sun and the brick wall,” he wrote. “The view is pleasant but the sounds of the road are not. 2/10.”
Wilmot sits in a mall in March, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. “The seat itself is comfortable with decent depth to allow for maximum bottom/legs to bench. The back rest was horrendous, next to no comfort provided at all. There’s no arm rest or plaque to read and the setting is pretty miserable in this current situation and in general. 2/10. I didn’t like it. It’s barely a bench.”
“At times such as these it’s the little things that get us by,” he wrote in March as he sat on a bench in Bristol. “Sit on a bench, walk your dog, drink coffee from small venders and wash your hands. For the majority of you who follow this page this virus isn’t a concern but be kind to those who are anxious and fearful. Green grass and blue skies is the best remedy around. Go rate a bench and send in a review, it’ll make everyone’s day better. Other than being a little low, I did like it here and thought it was comfortable. Solid. 6/10.”
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.
The photos are mostly taken by Wilmot’s girlfriend, he said, and the rest are taken by various friends or family members. “North Devon really does have some of the best scenery and benches around,” Wilmot wrote in this post from August. “A short walk from our campsite down the mother of all hills reveals this gem that looked across the private Bay of Lee Abbey. The grass embankment was a little wild and the base over grown but it provided enough of a space to plant my feet. The bench was comfortable, wooden, well constructed and had the all important arms and dedication. The back rest was a good height and there was a curvature to the seat. All in all a very solid and satisfying place to sit, breathe and ponder, 7/10.”
Wilmot sits with his friend Cameron McIntyre after they received their master’s degrees in December. "Modern benches can be practical, comfortable and stylish. This was not,” he wrote. “The company was the biggest redeeming feature of this bench. 3/10.”
Wilmot rated this bench a 7/10 at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. “Go to Museums kids, history is important,” he wrote. “I have to say that otherwise my degree was pointless. This was a cracking bench, it’s grande, seating for 6 normal sized folk, a high back rest, thick arm rests and a beautifully carved seat.”
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.”
Wilmot encountered these smart benches in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in September 2019. “A place to charge your phone via solar power. This is fundamentally against the attraction of a bench for me. If your decision to sit down is based purely around the shackles of a mobile phone then your thinking is flawed. … 3/10.”
Wilmot visits the Newark Park country house near Ozleworth, England, in February. “This bench was all about the view over the Cotswolds escarpment and was greatly enjoyed with a hot chocolate after a muddy walk around the grounds. The seat was too narrow and the back support was lacking support, but it had a solid base and some history to it. For a bench designed in the 1790s (don’t correct me if I’m wrong), it really has stood the test of time. Given my enjoyment and appreciation of the view this gets a 4/10.”
Wilmot sits while watching one of his favorite bands in February. “This is little more than a church pew, it’s small, the seat is narrow, it’s just one big dog wide and has a very stiff back. It’s uncomfortable but close enough to the speakers to really appreciate the groovy riffs and disgruntled yelling. … 2/10.”
Wilmot attends the Y Not music festival in Derby, England, in August 2019. “I couldn’t not upload this bench, it had an Octopus tentacle on it,” he wrote. “It was just 2 planks which never goes down well and no arm rests. It was the first proper bench I found at the festival and that brought a smile to my face. It’s only a temporary bench but I can still complain about the fact the back was too low and it was grass under foot, after all I have standards that I judge benches by. 3/10.”
Wilmot attends the 2000trees Festival in Withington, England, in July 2019. “The tree root creates a problematic scenario of where to place your feet and the lack of redeeming features like a back and arm rests leaves me no choice but to mark harshly. It’s a 3/10.”
“When I’m not rating benches I can be found refereeing amateur football,” Wilmot wrote in July 2019. “This has recently been installed at Wickwar Wanderers FC, it’s made of recycled material which is a nice touch. That being said I prefer a wooden bench. … 6/10.”
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.
“This bench had an emotional dedication on it and I think the bench is a unique and loving gesture,” Wilmot said of this bench in Bristol in December. “I really appreciate the solid wooden carving, the gentle slope in the seat, the height of the back rest and how firm the arms are. It’s a big and strong bench with plenty of places to sit and a view of the lake. In the summer this would be an ideal spot to sit with some grub from the @saltandmalt. As with all benches a concrete or paved base would have prevented dirty shoes. The bench also held water fairly poorly but these are only small drawbacks. This is a 6/10 for its artistic design and for being a loving dedication to Georgia from the ‘Uni girls’.”
“They say never to work with children or animals, I can understand why. What is usually a 2 photo process took 14 attempts,” said Wilmot, who is sitting here with his nephew, Quinn, in June 2019. “My face doesn’t actually represent how nice a bench this was, it was made from recycled plastic and metal. Although it wasn’t wooden, it felt proper. … Page Park was also a great location. This was a 7/10.”
Wilmot said his dog, like this bench, “is a bit of an eye sore.” He gave the bench a 2/10, writing that “3 plank benches are a hatred of mine, they offer next to no comfort. No arm rests, no plaque, no curvature in the seat, no creativity and a dull view. I was surprised to see that half of the base had been ripped up, what use is that? It also means one foot is lower than the other.”
“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.”
“So @walesonline quoted somebody calling this the ‘stupidest bench in Wales’. They weren’t wrong,” Wilmot wrote of this spot in Swansea in June 2019. “To me a bench requires a level of comfort to be considered a bench, this had none at all. … As views go, it’s quite something, felt like I was on the set of Bugs Life. The noise of traffic and smell of stale urine from the nearby toilets offer a displeasing roller coaster for the senses. For humour alone, the fact it exists is worthy of a solitary mark. 1/10.”
“If only this bench were the one behind,” Wilmot said in Swansea’s Port Eynon Beach. “One was beautifully made with a plaque, wooden and has arm rests. I didn’t sit on that one. The one I sat on was a bore, like the kid at a party who doesn’t drink and speaks to the mum all night. The ice cream was decent and so was the view. If you look closely the ice cream dripped on me. It wasn’t overly comfortable nor was it glamorous. It’s a shame because the view deserved more. People demand consistency so it’s a 4/10.”
“It’s my granny’s birthday today and we had afternoon tea on the lawn.” Wilmot wrote in August 2019. “It was all very civilised. My granny said ‘I like the view, it’s a solid bench.’ Short and sweet. That’s how reviews should be. … Bench is a 6/10, the company is 10/10.”
Wilmot sits with his grandfather on his 80th birthday in August 2019. “In his 80 years on this earth he’s seen a world war and now he must put up with his grandson rating benches for the internet,” Wilmot joked as he rated this bench a 6/10.
“Damien Hirst’s Beautiful Hours provides the view for this bench at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery,” Wilmot posted in December. “Despite Hirst’s obsession with death and my rather stern expression, this bench was interesting. This bench allows one to choose which way you’d prefer to sit, whilst providing suitable back support. … I like the design and i like art galleries, this was a pleasure. 6/10.”
“Why a thistle this large has not been dealt with by the appropriate maintenance people is beyond me,” Wilmot said of this spot in Swansea. “It’s a below average bench that comes with a lovely view. This is picnic territory that’s hindered by an overgrown thistle, I had to sit on my jumper to prevent stab wounds. 3/10.”
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.”
“Today I came across the daddy of all benches,” Wilmot wrote of this Bristol bench in June 2019. “This is a poignant tribute to Conor Hall and the @clipupforconor.info campaign. It is one of the sturdiest benches I’ve sat on, it’s practically made of railway sleepers. The back support is a great height and offers well treated and smooth timber. … It’s well positioned in a super park too, I’m a little lost for words to describe the magnificence of this bench. This deserves my highest rating so far. 9/10. Superb.”
“This bench isn’t pretty, nor is it comfortable but let me tell you it was very much needed,” Wilmot said of this bench in Devon, England. “It’s not the most accessible bench/beach but for those of you who can survive the journey it is very rewarding. The bench is ideal for brushing off sandy feet or offering a moment’s shelter from the elements. … 4/10.”
A plaque on this bench reads, “For Doris, A lady with style,” Wilmot wrote after sitting in Swansea’s Brynmill Park in June 2019. “And style this bench has. I never knew Doris, but what a lovely memorial. It’s well made, the only bench here that’s painted and sits in a great park. Doris, if I could have a bench anywhere near this standard I’d be a happy man. 8/10.”
Wilmot sits in a caged bench in Bristol in August 2019. “I like the colour but not the fact it’s metal,” he wrote. “However, it’s a sheltered area so it can offer some protection from the elements. It’s a 4/10, there’s a sense of nostalgia with this bench.”
Wilmot visits Port Talbot, Wales, in June 2019. “The bench was horrible, anti-homeless and anti-comfort from what I could tell. Back was far too straight, no allowance for the curvature of the spine. Phonebox spoiled the view too, I’m surprised they still existed. 1/10.”
“As benches go, this is as near to perfect as you’ll find,”Wilmot said of this bench at a church in Old Sodbury, England. “Beautifully crafted, perfectly placed and lovingly donated by a man’s family. … I’d love to have a bench such as this dedicated to me one day. Quality, 9/10.”
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.
Wilmot sits in front of a statue of former boxing champion David Pearce in Newport, Wales, in August 2019.
“This bench was very modern and quite beautiful in bench terms,” Wilmot wrote in December. "I harp on about curvature in the seat a lot but it doesn’t come much better than this, it provided seating for three people with each one sculpted into the seat. The fit was like a glove. … This was a good bench, 6/10.”
“For a bench that sits at the top of a cul-de-sac it was surprisingly good,” Wilmot said of this bench in Westerleigh, England, in December. “If you want to see tacky Christmas lights, this is the place to go. The bench was clearly dated but that’s probably a good sign, at least things were built to last years ago. … 6/10.”
Sam Wilmot has been rating benches since June 2019. Follow “Rate This Bench” on Instagram.
Editors: Bernadette Tuazon, Brett Roegiers and Kyle Almond