Every week a group of children from Rushden Kids Club visit a local elderly people’s home. These intergenerational encounters have sparked great friendships and inspire learning and a greater understanding of the world. Manager, Natasha Wain, explains why she started the scheme and the benefits it brings to both young and old.
‘Britain is one of the most age segregated countries in the world. This causes loneliness and exclusion, lack of trust, ageism and division between generations. It doesn’t have to be like this. More and more projects are enabling older and younger people to mix and share activities and experiences.’
This statement comes from an organisation called United For All Ages, that was set up to bring generations together. It is projects like this, along with recent media, that encourage us to reflect on the impact that we can have on the local community and the importance of sharing life stories and experiences.
Over Christmas 2017 I was watching ‘Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds’ and was reduced to tears and felt overwhelmed watching four-year-old Scarlett explain to her new friend Beryl, 85, that her Mummy had passed away.
This moment highlighted how generations can share experiences, and despite their age difference are able to empathise and admire the resilience and strength in each other in circumstances that affect us all.
I returned to work inspired by the relationships I could see transpiring between generations and wanted to bring generations together in our community. We asked for the views of parents and everyone was very positive and keen for their children to take part.
A parent that worked in a local care home enquired at her workplace to see if it was something that they would be willing to engage in. A few phone calls, meetings and risk assessments later we were able to go on our first visit to Rushden Park Nursing Home and begin our very own journey of intergenerational learning.
Since March 2018 we have been breathing young life into the care home every Tuesday with a small group of children for an hour and a half. All the residents know when we arrive. The sound of the children’s cheer, when Pam the activities coordinator greets us at the door, travels along the corridor and little voices and footsteps are heard throughout the building. Residents gather in the activities room awaiting our arrival and some wave as we pass by their rooms, not yet brave enough to join the fun but still happy to see us.
During the visits children engage in interactive learning such as cooking, board games, stories, singing, building and drawing – but this is superficial to the learning and experiences that lie beneath. For me, it is the life skills these children are learning, such as empathy for others, self-confidence, communication in different forms and interdependence. This can only be learnt and experienced by spending quality time together. Observing the pleasure that both generations give to one another is heartwarming and I feel humble to be a part of bringing them together.
The children learn about the world around them first hand and this was evident during an activity where we shared memory boxes. The boxes were full of old mementoes, and as the elderly reminisced they shared their memories with the children. The children were inspired to ask questions about the items and discovered more about the life experiences of the older people, a perfect little history lesson.
Such opportunities enable each generation to learn about and understand each other. Our visits to Rushden Park Nursing Home help the children see that the world has not always been the way they know it to be and gives them an appreciation of history, life experiences and how things change.
On these visits I am always struck by how the eyes of the elderly have seen things that we may never see in a lifetime and how the future is in the hands of the children today.