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

Children's Mental Health

children's mental health

Buddy Bench Ireland

We believe the ‘whole-school’ approach is aspirational but cannot be scaled at the moment due to curricula overload and lack of specific social and emotional training.

It demands too much of the school, presenting challenges regarding timetabling, specialised teacher training and extra administration.[1]

Rather than being the driver of a holistic approach, the school should be at the centre of a community effort[2].

Buddy Bench Ireland offers school-based child-led positive mental health programs – innovative, original and engaging – that promote emotional resilience and mental well being through supporting the core competencies of empathy, creativity, self-awareness and communication.

Each program comprises of:

  • A physical Buddy Bench, installed in the school playground;
  • A 45-60 minute workshop delivered by our facilitators in the classroom;
  • An interactive, unique Activity Book for each child containing a comprehensive set of creative activities that the child can explore in their own time, at their own pace;
  • Teacher’s Resource Pack that outlines the thinking and practice behind the program’s design and how it aligns with the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘7 Core Competencies’ and the HSE and Dept of Health’s ’15 Protective Factors’, which structure the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) element of the primary school curriculum.
  • Resource for parents

This is a universal early intervention[3] for positive children’s mental health that seeks to promote a culture of self-expression, listening, tolerance, resilience, and mutual support.

Through supporting core competencies of empathy, creativity, mindfulness and communication, and promoting a child-led culture, we are empowering a generation of children to create a world where it’s OK – i.e. normal, natural, easy and fun to express yourself.[4]

We don’t overburden the school administration, nor do we add to teachers’ workload; on the contrary, our research is evidencing how we lighten teachers’ load by resourcing children to problem-solve socially at a peer-to-peer level.[5]

Our external team of trained professionals deliver our children’s mental health programs.[6]

It is easy for a school to timetable a single workshop per class per year.[7]

The Buddy Bench remains on site as both a visual reminder of the program learning’s, and also a ‘safe space’ to spend time with friends and family and to develop a positive self-image[8]

Children continue to work with our workbooks in class and at home. Parental engagement is proving to be a key factor in promoting positive children’s mental health.

Through our social media activity we engage parents and communities on the importance of supporting children to build their own resilience and emotional wellbeing.[9]

[1] “The biggest challenges to implementing children’s mental health promotion programs in schools are: funding, timetabling, programme fidelity and achieving full participation from all stakeholders” [Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[2]Schools not only provide formal education, but are also places that foster personal development and well-being” [Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology, 5(603), 1-20]

Schools are increasingly considered to be important settings for children’s mental health promotion and intervention” [Merikangas, K. R., Nakamura, E. F., & Kessler, R. C. (2009). Epidemiology of mental disorders in children and adolescents. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 11(1), 7-20]

[3]early intervention and prevention are critical in order to prevent a negative downward spiral of poor mental health and well-being into adolescence and adulthood” [Costello, E. J., Egger, H. L., & Angold, A. (2004). The Developmental Epidemiology of Anxiety Disorders. In T. H. Ollendick & J. S. March (Ed.), Phobic and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: A clinician’s guide to effective psychosocial and pharmacological interventions (pp. 61). New York, NY: Oxford University Press]

[4] “These school-based children’s mental health interventions (e.g. mindfulness, social and emotional skills programmes) may be delivered as part of a universal preventative approach, which offers the potential to enhance the lives of all children” [Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837-861]

[5] Ongoing evaluation with Centre for Mental Health and Community Research ( at Maynooth University

[6] “educating students about mental health requires specific skills and training” [Power, M., Cleary, D., Fitzpatrick, C. (2008). Mental Health Promotion in Irish Schools: A Selective Review.. Quoted in Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[7] “At a practical level, one of the biggest challenges schools face in mental health promotion is organisational, as implementing these programmes requires timetabling and extra administration” [Power, M., Cleary, D., Fitzpatrick, C. (2008). Mental Health Promotion in Irish Schools: A Selective Review.. Quoted in Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[8] “According to a consultation with teenagers on mental health, among ‘what helps’ was having a ‘safe space’ to spend time with friends and family and to develop a positive self-image” [Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(2009) What helps and what hurts]

[9] “a holistic perspective recognises health and well-being as arising from the interactive roles of the environment and the individual whereby the environment ranges from the immediate social setting (e.g. family and friends) to the broader societal level” [Kok, G., Schaalma, H., Ruiter, R. A., Van Empelen, P., & Brug, J. (2004) Intervention mapping: protocol for applying health psychology theory to prevention programmes. Journal of health psychology, 9(1), 85-98]

Latest News

Buddy Bench Ireland launches Little Buddies Early Years program for Courage and Resilience. Aimed at preschool children preparing to transition into primary school

Transitions are a critical time for children’s growth and development. They provide an opportunity to not just survive change, but to thrive and grow from change. Facing such a challenge, with the right support behind them, children can develop resilience and resources of strength and courage that will stay with them their whole lives.

This insight is what has created the collaboration between Kilkenny Local Community Development Committee and Buddy Bench, one of Ireland’s fastest growing social enterprises offering learning resources to children for emotional health and wellbeing. This project, funded by Healthy Ireland, will see 24 Early Years settings in Kilkenny City and County receive the Little Buddies Program for Courage and Resilience.

Delivered by local Psychotherapist Michelle O’Brien, the program uses storytelling, roleplaying and creative activities based on Buddy Bench’s recently launched CarePack Sam Builds a Nest by Jeffrey Gormly:

Maynooth University’s ongoing evaluation of Buddy Bench programs is showing us that what children respond to are creative experiences that help them to integrate our insights into their own story about who they are and how they relate to others,” said Jeffrey.

“Resilience is about being able to feel your inner strength when you need to go outside your comfort zone and take on the challenges of growing into the world and finding your place,” says Michelle. “Just like the Robin in the story has to stand on the edge of the nest, gather his courage, and take off, so that he can fly high and find his own nest!”

Sam builds a nest for courage and resilience
Sam in his nest

“Children can feel challenged or overwhelmed by all kinds of experiences. Moving to big school, moving house, a change in family make up or a bereavement, even just strong emotional feelings can make us feel as if we are outside our comfort zone,” says Buddy Bench Co-founder Sam Synnott. “Seeing my daughter go through that is what inspired me to start Buddy Bench, and bring this kind of wisdom and safe support to all children.”

It’s this kind of safety that is at the heart of the Buddy Bench mission, which has recently been featured in the BBC World Hacks: People Fixing the World series on BBC World Service. BBC Reporter Dougal Shaw says:

“I began to understand why it feels like a mission. [Buddy Bench] see it as a way to help Irish society as a whole, a kind of early intervention, to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.”

This mission is what has enabled Buddy Bench to bring their programs to 40,000 children in over 260 schools and preschools throughout Ireland, a huge impact for a small social enterprise based in Kilkenny. Not only that, but since they were founded in 2016 by Judith Ashton and Sam Synnott, Buddy Bench have been award winners with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, KBC Better Ireland, Google Adopt-a-Startup and the National Startup Awards.

Sam Builds a Nest is illustrated by Ross Dillon of Cartoon Saloon sister company Lighthouse Studios, and comes beautifully packaged in a handprinted box. The CarePack is available at The Hub Thomastown, Designist Dublin, and online at

For more info or to book a Little Buddies workshop for your Early Years setting, contact or 0567702027 ,{t�[ ��