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.”
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.