A safe seat: can buddy benches banish bullying and build better communities?

Rates of bullying in New Zealand are alarming compared to other countries – with roughly a fifth of NZ students saying they are frequently bullied. In Australia, more than one in five students reported feeling like an outsider and awkward at school, while 16 per cent said they were lonely.

Across the globe, a simple but powerful tool is emerging to help tackle these worrying trends: the buddy bench. Done well, they represent a safe haven where children can sit to signal their need for company and connection.

A Huffington Post article highlighted that buddy benches are more than decoration. In fact, they’re a tangible way to encourage peer support: a critical factor in combating school bullying according to University Professor Helen Cowie in Promoting Emotional Education.

Here at Urban Effects, this is where our passions meet. We’re proud outdoor furniture specialists with a sister company (Playground Centre) who is a leading supplier of smart playground equipment across the world.

We believe that every primary school, pre-school and community playground should have a buddy bench – gently promoting connection when it’s needed more than ever. From an early age, they can help develop empathy, social skills and personal responsibility by giving children a concrete step to improve how they, or others, feel.

How it works: in a nutshell

Children sit on the bench when they’re looking for someone to talk to or play with: whether they’re new at school, want to make new friends, or want to play something different. Children who see someone sitting on the bench invite them to play or talk – and make new friends in the process.

Buddy benches: our top 4 tips

  • Make it stand out, so people know exactly where it is – and children sitting there are noticed.
  • In schools especially, they should be part of a bigger program to ensure a tolerant, inclusive culture.
  • An important symbol, the bench also has a functional purpose so communicate exactly what it’s for and how to use it.
  • Engage students or community members in developing the rules, site upkeep or fundraising for the bench. It also makes a meaningful gift from a year level, parent body or community group.

Urban Effects buddy bench:

  • Colour with meaning: Our prototype design specifically reflects the seven colours of the rainbow (in order). While rainbows are perceived as distinctive hues, they’re really a continuous spectrum of colours (just like diverse humans, who come together in communities). We have also added pink in support the anti-bullying message of Pink Shirt Day. comm
  • Seat sizing has been developed with the younger child in mind: attitudes and behaviour are embedded early.
  • Appealing, creative bilingual decal. Option to include the words He tūru Kotahi meaning ‘a single chair’ alongside ‘Buddy Bench’ giving a sense of a spirit of unity.
  • The incredible durability, strength and low-maintenance features of all our products (standing up to all kinds of weather and ‘rough and tumble’.

Make a buddy bench pride of place in your community before Pink Shirt Day on 17 May 2019.


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