Information in this piece was originally published on Social Entrepreneurs.

Sam Synnott, our UCD Innovation Academy Graduate, and Judith Ashton, won on the October 11th the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards 2016, one of the most prestigious and important recognition for social entrepreneurship in Ireland.

Through these Awards Programmes, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland provides funding, mentoring and support to high potential social entrepreneurs and their projects to bring about positive change to Ireland’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Sam and Judith were one of the 6th winners in the Elevator Programme, a programme that offers support to social entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of their projects, helping to refine ideas and implement the required structures to build a sustainable and scalable organisation.

UCD Innovation Academy Graduate won the Social Entrepreneur Elevator Programme 2016 - Buddy Bench

Their project is called Buddy Bench, a school-based, child-led programme which promotes good mental health, well-being, and emotional resilience.

The Challenge
Can you remember a time when you were a child and felt sad, lonely, or even frightened? Imagine that instead of keeping those feelings locked inside, you were encouraged to express these emotions. Can you imagine the difference it would have made to your life today? In Ireland today, many children do not have the tools to deal with or express their emotions, which can interfere with their healthy development and lead to a number of mental health challenges in their future. According to the RCSI, 1 in 6 young people aged 11-13 experience some kind of a mental health challenge, while high levels of anxiety affect up to 20% of children and young teenagers.

The Idea
Psychotherapist Judith found that early intervention was key to preventing childhood issues from spiralling. Sam discovered the full extent and impact of the issues children face when she became a parent. Together, they were convinced that if children were taught how to talk about their emotions, the mental health of Ireland’s population could be vastly improved. Having observed similar international models, they founded Buddy Bench Ireland. The organisation has devised a programme for schools which promotes emotional resilience and introduces children to a shared vocabulary for expressing emotions, through visual tools, learning and role play. As part of the programme they also place a colourful bench in the schoolyard. Children are encouraged to sit together and ask one another how they are doing, and speak openly about their feelings in a positive and normalised way.

The Impact
Buddy Bench Ireland has delivered their programme to 20 schools and 3,500 children to date, and are now extending their programme across Limerick, Dublin, and Cork. They aim to reach 1,500 schools and over 26,000 children by the end of 2017. With the support of Buddy Bench Ireland, a child who is fearful, anxious and confused about how they feel can communicate it. Their vision is a future where each child is supported to thrive throughout their school years in a community that prioritises their mental health.


Congratulations once again Sam and Judith for this amazing project that is helping children to express emotions with confidence.

For more information, visit The Innovation Academy Website.