The sky’s the limit for intergenerational action
In April 2017, The Observer ran an article about the world famous Providence Mount where a nursery is co-located with a care home in Seattle. The article asked whether the care-home nursery model bringing old and young together could take off in the UK. Since then Apples and Honey Nightingale has shown it is possible following its opening in London in September last year. It has been accompanied by a massive expansion in intergenerational interaction in care and learning over the last twelve months. Why has this rapid growth happened? No doubt media coverage has oiled the wheels – for example Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, along with coverage of Apples and Honey Nightingale and Downshall primary school’s daycare centre?
"It’s happening because people think it’s the right thing to do, because it’s good and positive to bring older and younger people together at a time when our society is divided in many ways and segregated by age."
But the media have been picking up on a wider range of grassroots initiatives. This is not driven top down by government, national or locally, either in policy or funding terms. This is not about rolling out
a particular model, because there are lots of models. It’s happening because people think it’s the right thing to do, because it’s good and positive to bring older and younger people together at a time when our society is divided in many ways and segregated by age.
There are multiple benefits, social and economic, and multiple beneficiaries of these many models. We need to capture them all through rigorous evaluation and shout about what works. Of course
it’s about improving experiences for older people and children and improving their care but it’s also about the families, care staff, care providers and local communities who benefit. This is about changing our country and building a better future.
Apples and Honey Nightingale didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of relationship building between the care home and nursery, starting with visits to the care home by the nursery, then setting up a parent and toddler group meeting at the home weekly, to having a nursery opening on the care home site. Social innovation also requires leaders and pioneers like those running the nursery and care home.
This experience reflects some of the many models of intergenerational possibilities in care. There is a sliding scale of intergenerational interaction - from occasional visits to regular visits by nurseries and parent and toddler groups to care homes; from adjacent/co-located care homes and nurseries where more planned activities take place to the full blown model of integration like Apples and Honey Nightingale where interaction is daily, it’s part of planned activities and it’s spontaneous in the nursery and in the care home.
There are of course other models of shared sites as United for All Ages set out in our recent paper, Mixing Matters. Examples such as Downshall primary school with its daycare centre for older people with dementia, Full Circle placing older volunteers with schools across Oxfordshire, and housing in Cambridge where sheltered flats are let to students. Because these are grassroots led developments, many models should and will flourish to meet local circumstances and local needs and wishes. Not every care home can host a nursery on its site. But every nursery and every care home and every housing with care scheme can link up with other providers locally.
"This is about changing our country and building a better future."
United for All Ages is working with care providers across the country to scope the possibilities of nurseries on both existing sites and new sites to offer integrated interaction and share resources. The future is very exciting but unpredictable given this movement is grassroots led. We are now seeing homework clubs in care homes, and children on older people’s wards in hospitals. Professional football clubs are promoting intergenerational walking football and ballet companies staging intergenerational performances. The possibilities are limited only by our ambition and imagination so the sky really is the limit.
Stephen Burke is director of the ‘think and do’ tank, United for All Ages, and the trip advisor style website, Good Care Guide. United for All Ages aims to create stronger communities and a stronger Britain by bringing older and younger people together. This includes promoting and developing shared sites, examples of which will be discussed at the conference and are featured in United for All Ages’ latest report, Mixing Matters. Previously Stephen was chief executive of two national care charities and the leader of a London borough. Currently he is also chair and trustee of several housing, care, ageing and family charities and chair of finance at North Norfolk NHS Clinical Commissioning Group.
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