Reading Rooms: the Importance of Intergenerational Interaction

Part of our Care Homes programme is looking at how residents can develop the idea of “community connectedness”. Verbal works in partnership with My Home Life to explore how the community can link into care homes through their FaNs (Friends and Neighbours) project. MHL define community connectedness as being “anything that connects care homes with local people, charitable groups, businesses and clubs”. Intergenerational connections are part of this focus.

Attitudes to older people tend to be negative, where they are often seen to be a drain on society.  There is a growing need for intergenerational contact to try and challenge and offset these views. Subsequently, Reading Rooms have been targeting intergenerational opportunities, and deem these to be a very important part of our programme for older people.

This year, we have developed a programme both with primary schools and within the third level education sector. In Longfield, we worked with children from Broadbridge and Eglinton Primary Schools, based on two themes: the Vikings and community. The first Reading Rooms allowed the children to share all their new knowledge of the Vikings – they children were surprised to learn that the residents too had adventures when they were younger!

The second session had a story called Broken Toys by Shaun Tan. In the story, the two young children set out to annoy their older neighbour but with surprising results. We finished with Benjamin Zephaniah’s People Need People, and both residents and children agreed that people really do need each other, and in particular younger and older need to have opportunities to be together. One resident commented that she loved the children coming in as it brought the younger community into the home: “I love their energy and really enjoy having them in Longfield.”

Some homes are leading the way in terms of combining intergenerational activity with actual care for older and younger people within the same facility. The Apples and Honey Nightingale Nursery is the first of its kind in the UK. Stephen Burke, Director of United for All Ages, noted that the nursery is “about bringing people together… and challenge some of the stereotypes around ageism, dementia and other conditions affecting older people and we see this having benefits for all generations”.

Channel 4’s Old People’s Homes for 4 Year Olds found improved mood, mobility and memory amongst residents after just spending six weeks with the children. Judith Ish-Horowocz from Apples and Honey Nightingale Nursery says “the health benefits of alleviating social isolation may also lead to savings elsewhere”.  The documentary also highlight now increased social interaction is linked to reduced risk of disease in older people,

The Reading Rooms are extending the idea of community connectedness where residents are seen to be a research resource, linking with Ulster University Performance Arts students as part of their arts and health module. This will offer a meaningful learning process for the students as a practical application to the theory they are studying.  We will also be working with Rosemount Primary School linking them to Brooklands: Edenballymore Lodge, where they will explore the theme of Hallowe’en past and present through stories and poems. Both projects will begin with sessions looking at older people, what it’s like to be older, and will focus on the benefits of older and younger linking together. This will involve a session on what to expect in a care home, to help prepare the students and children before linking them to a home.

Next month we will share with you some of the reflections from the intergenerational sessions.

by Sinead Devine
Reading Rooms Project Officer – Older People

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