Most shopping centres have a program of upgrading mall furniture to the latest and greatest, so when Belmont Forum in Perth had old benches to give away they thought they could use the benches to better serve the community. Their old benches will now have a long term positive impact by countering bullying at schools across Perth. This program was so well received, it even made front page news in the local community paper.
More than 5,000 school children across 17 schools in the wider Belmont community in Western Australia have benefitted from the delivery of Buddy Benches as part of Belmont Forum’s ‘Say No to Bullying’ initiative. The campaign was inspired during the extensive redevelopment of Belmont Forum and the identification of more than 30 benches that were no longer required.
“We’re currently undertaking a significant refurbishment of the shopping centre, which included replacing mall furniture, and we had several benches no longer required,” said Alexandra McAuliffe, Centre Manager of Belmont Forum.
“Rather than sell or dispose of them, we identified the opportunity to repurpose and reuse the benches within the community. With acceptance and inclusion being key values of Belmont Forum, we recognised an opportunity to support our local schools with their efforts to promote a positive and friendly school culture through the provision of Buddy Benches,” she said.
Buddy Benches have become popular additions to the school playground, recognised as ‘safe places’ for kids to go if they are experiencing loneliness, feeling bullied or simply don’t have anyone to play with, they also foster a culture of caring with children encouraged to approach others using the Buddy Bench to offer friendship and support.
“When we approached schools in the surrounding area to see if they would like a bench for their school grounds, the response was overwhelming. So much so, we managed to allocate additional benches to meet the demand,” McAuliffe added.
Cloverdale Education Support Centre is one of the schools participating in the program, taking on five benches. According to the Principal, Debi Taylor, the benches arrival sparked much discussion in classrooms about bullying and inclusion.
“The benches have been placed in high profile locations around the grounds and play areas. Immediately, they ignited discussion about inclusion and caring for our fellow classmates, which is their very purpose and has been great to hear. It’s a great initiative and we are now looking forward to planning art projects to transform the benches into art pieces to further increase their appeal to students,” said Taylor.
Child and family mental health expert and author Claire Orange, endorsed the program stating that Buddy Benches, when used effectively, could help children process feelings of exclusion and isolation by sharing with peers.
“Buddy Benches are recent additions to school playgrounds that need to be supported with the active teaching of skills to manage the emotional or social situation that has prompted the child to use the bench. When schools include a Buddy Bench in their play area and teach the skills to promote friendliness, inclusion and assertiveness, it opens the space for healthy discussions about social loneliness, exclusion and bullying and their impact,”she concluded.
Belmont Forum provided each of the schools with Bunnings vouchers so schools could decorate the benches. Many of the participating schools have confirmed they are now planning out art projects for their new Buddy Benches.
Participating schools include Belmay Primary School, Belmont Primary School, Belmont City College, Forrestfield Primary School, Belmont Primary School, Notre Dame Primary School, Cloverdale Primary School, Cloverdale Education Support Centre, Kewdale Primary School, Redcliffe Primary School, St Augustine’s School, Rivervale Primary School, Australian Islamic College, and South East Metropolitan Language Centre.