Light Up the Night Tractor Run 2018

The 3rd annual ‘Light up the Night’ Kilkenny truck and tractor run took place this on New Year’s Eve, in a bid to highlight suicide awareness, mental health issues and the help and support available in the local areas, nationwide and beyond.  Light Up The Night is a Suicide Awareness initiative set up by a group of people from North Kilkenny and surrounding areas.

“Our reasoning for starting this event was that our local community, which is a rural area, has been hit hard by Suicide in recent years.” Freddie Farrell explained. ” At all of the funerals and in the aftermath of such tragedies, a group of us talked about doing something to try create an awareness about the help available to people in our areas.” he added. 

The Buddy Bench Program facilitators visited 5 local schools in March 2019 as funded by The Light Up The Night tractor run initiative to deliver their message of friendship, communication and emotional well-being to over 738 children from North County Kilkenny.

The participating schools included : St Lachtains NS Freshford, Muckalee NS, Johnstown NS, Castlecomer Convent NS and Moneenroe NS.

St Lachtains NS Freshford

St Lachtains NS Freshford

The Buddy Bench facilitators spoke to all the classes with specially tailored age appropriate programmes . The Junior and Senior Infants classes received “The Little Buddies” mental health program is where  children become enthralled in our interactive story brought to life by our furry woodland creatures.

Kin the thoughtful fox.

Alfe the very emotional and caring squirrel.

Red the robin who just loves his nest.

Neeke the monkey who is very different and so very very proud of the fact.

Each animal represents a thought, or a feeling. It is an open ended story allowing free will of the children’s imagination. Friends help children feel safe and we all need kindness to grow.

First to fourth class received “The Buddy Bench Aware” exclusion, isolation or fears of being left out can create anxiety for any child, so we have built our Buddy Bench Aware Program around teaching self-awareness, friendship, empathy and self-expression, using the Buddy Bench as a visual tool.

The children explore the clues other children give away on the outside about how they feel on the inside. We appoint all the children in the class the job of “noticing” and responding with kindness.

During our interactive workshop we teach children to recognise and respond to their own feelings – different emotions feel different on the inside, physically

The fifth and sixth classes received “The You Are A Hero” program

Each programme delivers a similar message designed to teach children the importance of effective emotional communication. The programme is accompanied by a physical bench which is left in the school yard as a reminder  to the children that every child is important and needs to be noticed and included and that we all need to ,”Look up, look around and look out for each other.”

The programmes were well received by teachers and children alike. There was active participation by all involved  and they were all very grateful to the Light Up The Night tractor run organisers for choosing their schools to receive the Buddy Benches and The Buddy Bench Aware programmes.

The Buddy Bench Team were also delighted to have been  sponsored by The Light Up The Night committee for the second year running to deliver their importance message of friendship and inclusion to the schools involved. Light Up The Night crew we thank you………..very much.

St Lachtains NS Freshford

St Lachtains NS Freshford

Hi Judith,Thanks for Wednesday. A great day had by all.

“On Wednesday 27th March, Judith from Buddy Bench Ireland visited us at St. Lachtain’s NS, Freshford. She conducted workshops with all the children from Junior Infants to Sixth Class. The children explored such topics as how to be a good friend and the importance of looking out for and including everybody. They learned about the importance of sharing your feelings and worries, and also that it’s good to cry! Through story and drama, they also explored the concept of resilience and being able to bounce back. It was a great day for all.The visit was kindly sponsored by the kindness of ‘Light up the Night’. A Buddy Bench was also presented to the school. We’d like to sincerely thank their committee and volunteers for including our school this year.”
Kind regards,Brendan

Buddy Bench with the BBC World Hacks

The school playground can be a lonely place for a child if they haven’t got anyone to play with. But a special type of bench is helping pupils make friends and get people talking about bigger issues too.

One day, during her usual chat with her eight-year-old son about school, Tracey Cooney got an answer she didn’t expect.

“There was nobody to play with. Everyone was playing in their own little groups,” he confided.

She was surprised because he was usually outgoing and confident. But two of his friends had been sick that day, so they weren’t at playtime.

Cooney felt a little upset, but remembered something she had seen on social media and wondered if it could help children in his situation. It’s called a Buddy Bench.

The idea is simple – if a child feels lonely, they can go to the bench as a signal that they need someone to play with. Another child will see them, go and talk to them and include them in their games.

So Cooney asked other parents and the head teacher at Castlemartyr National School in Cork, Ireland, whether they would be interested in getting one – their answer was, “Yes.”

Buddy Bench
Image captionCastlemartyr is the 247th school to receive a bench from Buddy Bench Ireland

Also known as friendship benches, these pieces of playground furniture have been around for a while, in various countries.

But the people who make them in Ireland are trying to do something different with them.

“We use the bench as a reminder for children of things like communication, mutual support and opening up about feelings,” says Judith Ashton, a psychotherapist and co-founder of social enterprise Buddy Bench Ireland.

Hear more

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench

Her team delivers a day of tailored workshops about empathy, built around the arrival of the bench.

There are role-plays and children learn a song that reminds them to “look up, look around and look out for each other”.

It’s something that’s easy to forget, in an age when even young children can be engrossed in smartphones, Ashton says.

Buddy Bench workshop
Image captionThe courses are led by specialists trained to work with children

Apart from reducing social isolation and improving mental wellbeing, the hope is that the benches can tackle another problem found, to some degree, in most schools: bullying.

“I’ve been teaching 39 years,” says Jane Flannery, the principal at Castlemartyr National School.

“When I was a younger teacher we were more blasé about it and told people to get on with things. But I don’t think that’s good enough any more, we need to try something different.”

For her, Buddy Benches are that “something different”.

Co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland, Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton
Image captionSam Synnott and Judith Ashton are the co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland

But do children actually use the bench? And are they worried about how it makes them look?

“They don’t see it as stigmatised,” says Sinead McGilloway, director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at Maynooth University, who led a study of 117 pupils at three schools which have benches.

Forty per cent of the children she questioned said they had used the bench, and 90% said if they saw someone else sitting on it they would talk to them.

Buddy Bench class
Image captionChildren role-play to practise what it feels like using the bench

However, a small sample of parents did raise the concern of stigma.

And this is where the bigger aim of the project comes in, because the Buddy Bench team wants to tackle a problem that affects both young and old in Irish society: a reluctance to confront mental health.

“People spoke out of the corner of their mouth about it,” says Michelle O’Brien, one of the workshop leaders. Thinking back to her childhood, she says a mental health issue was seen as a fault in the family.

“Instead of the word depression ever being used, it was, ‘Their nerves are at ’em.’ It was a lot of factors, I think religion was a massive part of it.”

The Buddy Bench team aims to reach every pupil in Ireland, seeing this as an early intervention to tackle mental health problems across the generations.

Buddy Bench materials - cuddly toys and books

Mental Health Stigma in Ireland: Studies and Statistics

40% of Irish people would conceal a mental health problem from family, friends and colleagues (The Green Ribbon Report, 2017)

64% of Irish people believe that being treated for a mental health difficulty is seen as a sign of personal failure (survey by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, 2017)

52% of Irish people have experience of people with mental health problems (The Healthy Ireland Survey by the Department of Health, 2016)

In a symbolic gesture, the Buddy Bench Ireland team has its benches made by members of the Men’s Shed movement.

There are more than 400 Men’s Sheds in Ireland. They are a kind of hobby club where men, usually middle-aged or older, come together to make things.

It’s proved a lifeline for many coping with issues such as divorce and bereavement, by helping them to open up and talk about what they are going through.

John Fitzgerald, from the Carlow Men’s Shed, is one of the people who handmakes the Buddy Benches.

Men's Shed member John Fitzgerald
Image captionJohn Fitzgerald says he would have benefitted from a Buddy Bench

“I had a religious-based education and they brought us up to be men, in other words to be self-sufficient. If you were in trouble you just put up and shut up.”

The Buddy Bench would have been a nice idea for a quiet boy like him, he reckons.

Like a Men’s Shed, it is “a safe space” where you can speak about “difficulties, vulnerabilities and problems in your life”, he says. “It would have been beneficial for our generation.”

Children carrying a Buddy Bench

After the workshops have taken place at Castlemartyr National School, a small group of pupils are chosen to carry the bench into the playground.

By the time they reach the far end, a huge number of pupils has flocked around them.

A grand, triumphal procession slowly takes shape.

When the bench is finally put into place next to a wall, you can’t even see it any more.

There are too many excited children swarming to be the first to sit on it.

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench with more children gathered around

You can follow writer Dougal Shaw on Twitter: @dougalshawbbc

You can listen to Dougal’s full report on Buddy Benches in the latest People Fixing the World podcast from the BBC World Service

Our Schools

We are extending our reach daily both North and South of Ireland.  With the support of Buddy Bench Ireland, a child who is fearful, anxious and confused about how they feel can communicate it.

Our Vision

Our vision is a future where each child is supported to thrive throughout their school years in a community that priorities their mental health.

Ultimate Goal

We are working alongside others to build a generation who will not only be able to express themselves with ease and compassion, but also help those around them, and those they care for in future, to do the same. Improved mental fitness will have associated benefits for the home environment, schools, workplaces, the health care system and society as a whole.

The Aim

Our aim is to deliver the Buddy Bench Aware programmes to 2020 schools by the year 2020!


The Challenge

What is Mental Wellbeing?

A state of well-being in which the individual realises his or own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community. The best children’s Mental Wellbeing strategy is one that prevents issues from arising in the first place. Early intervention is central to the Buddy Bench approach.

A mental health risk factor is an internal or external condition that increases the likelihood of a mental health problem. In the school setting mental health risk factors include:

• disengagement, absenteeism, isolation and alienation • bullying and relationship difficulties • low academic achievement • violence/aggression • learning disabilities • cultural differences • low self-esteem • stressful life events • difficult school transitions • poor connection between family and school • harsh and inconsistent discipline

Even though we can’t always protect our children from stress but we can teach them the lifelong skills to cope with life’s challenges. It is normal for children to experience some stress throughout childhood and adolescence. Many children may experience heightened stress related to peer pressure, family conflict, transition from primary to high school, increased demands of study, performance expectations and body image. According to the R.C.S.I., 1 in 6 young people aged 11-13 experience some kind of mental health challenge, while high levels of anxiety affect up to 20% of children and young teenagers.