Northern Ireland

Loneliness-tackling pupils win entrepreneur award

Chatterbox box
Image caption Chatterbox is the prizewinning product devised by P7 pupils from St Mary's Primary School

Chatting isn't something the pupils of one County Tyrone school normally have a problem with.

But they noticed others did.

"How many people just sit and ignore other human beings, just staring at their screens?" asked Yasmine from St Mary's Primary School in Lisbuoy.

"We want to bring conversation back, which we need to do before everyone just stares at phones and forgets about their family and their friends.

"There'll be no point to us all being here if we don't interact with each other."

With the Junior Entrepreneur Programme (JEP) and combating social isolation in mind, the 14-strong class came up with the idea of 31 small cards with two suggestions of conversational topics on each.

The Chatterboxes idea won the backing of their very own Dragons' Den-style panel, made up of teachers and local businesspeople.

Image caption Most of the Chatterbox team say they want careers as entrepreneurs

"The children were very keen to run with it on the premise that phones, iPads, tablets, were being used in homes and out and about far too much," said primary seven teacher Caryn Girvan.

"So it really began from that and it was all led by the children."

The school has 77 pupils, 14 of them in primary seven.

They had been inspired by the school's first venture into the JEP last year.

"Last year, we were invited to the showcase day, which means you've been nominated for an award," explained the school principal, Martina Martin.

Image caption For a small rural school, St Mary's has been phenomenally successful in the Junior Entrepreneur Programme

"The same happened this year - that was 220 schools out of more than 700.

"To find we were nominated for four awards and then successful in the community champions is just unbelievable.

"We knew from the Dragons' Den experience that these conversation cards were something special so well done to the children - we're very proud of them."

Sharing the profits

The cards sold well, generating more than £500.

Image caption Nine out of the 14 Chatterbox children have ambitions to go into business for themselves

Once the expenses were deducted, each child got an £18 profit share.

The school's board of governors treated them to a day out and they each spent £3 on sweets and toys, keeping the paper money in their pockets.

The experience has inspired them all: Nine out of the 14 children have ambitions to go into business for themselves.

And they have been having some fun with the conversation suggestions.

"My favourite are the 'would you rather' questions," said John. "'Would you rather go in a rocket or a hot-air balloon?'

"I did that one with my brother.

Lily, another of the team, said: "I like them because you can use them at home or in school, in the hairdressers, or a cafe, or a hospital waiting room."

Yasmine added: "I had a conversation with my brother about him wanting to be on a private aeroplane for a few hours if he was invisible.

"I said I would probably go on stage when a politician was talking and tip a jug of water on their head."

Most conversations have been rather less revolutionary than that.

Cafe romance

One may even have started a romance after a local cafe owner spotted a couple on a first date.

To help ease the awkwardness, she gave them the cards and the ice was broken.

So the children's invention has been combating loneliness and isolation in all sorts of ways.

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