Best practice in running intergenerational programmes

Thanks to Dr Julie Barrett for this week’s blog.

Around 100 people came together on 26th January 2021 for the latest webinar organised by the Housing and Dementia Research Consortium (HDRC), the aims of which were to explore different intergenerational programmes available to people living with dementia in accommodation and care settings in the UK, and the successes, challenges, barriers and sustainability issues facing such programmes, as well as the impact on people living with dementia and the children/students that take part. It was also impossible to avoid talking about intergenerational care without mentioning the challenges of delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic. There were six presentations during the webinar:

  • Intergenerational Care and Housing in 2021 – an overview of UK policy and practice – Stephen Burke (Director, United for all Ages)
  • The Essential ‘A’s of Intergenerational Experiences: 4 Key Pillars To Guide Your Project – Louise Goulden (Together Project founder)
  • The Challenges and Obstacles facing Intergenerational Projects – Pre and During Covid-19 Mirain Llwyd Roberts (Bridging the Generations Coordinator, Gwynedd Council)
  • Right Time, Right Place! – Keith Oliver and Jess Shaw (Time and Place online poetry project collaborators)
  • Maximum Contact – Maximum Magic! Life in an Intergenerational Nursery– Sue Egersdorff (Ready Generations Founder)
  • Debutots – Joining Generations with Imagination – Kirsten Reeves (Debutots Worcestershire)

The first presentation was by Stephen Burke, Director of United for all Ages, who gave an overview of current UK policy and practice relating to intergenerational care and housing. After giving some examples of intergenerational activities that have taken place in different housing settings, Stephen described the work of United for All Ages, which is a Social enterprise and ‘think-do’ tank promoting intergenerational interaction and supporting development of new and existing projects. He then described the huge growth in intergenerational projects in the UK, pre-Covid-19 pandemic, which extended beyond care homes, nurseries and schools, included intergenerational housing and communities and saw the UK leading the way. He went on to explain why intergenerational activities are important, the mutual benefits, the sliding scale of intergenerational interaction and exemplars from across the UK.

Stephen finished by talking about how it has been necessary to become creative with intergenerational projects during the Covid-19 pandemic, online, on paper and outdoors and his ambitions for the future of intergenerational care, post Covid-19, which will hopefully see a decade of reconnection involving every child/older person/family/community, every nursery/school/college, every council, etc. and the development of centres for all ages across the UK, creating ‘a Britain for all ages’.

The future: a Britain for all ages?

Next up was Louise Goulden, the founder of the Together Project, who spoke about best practice in delivering intergenerational projects. First, Louise explained that the Together Project is a national charity that boost welling, reduces loneliness and fosters stronger, happier communities by creating joyful intergenerational experiences. The charity has a number of initiatives, a recent one being in response to the Covid-19 pandemic called ‘Hand in Hand Together’, which is an arts-based project pairing up children of all ages with adults in care homes to exchange hand print based pictures and short stories about themselves. Another initiative, ‘Songs and Smiles’, was the main subject of the presentation. This is a music group for children aged 0-4 years, their parents/guardians and older adults living in care homes and sheltered housing schemes throughout the country. The fun-filled sessions involve musical instruments, bubbles, dancing with coloured scarves and time at the end for refreshments and a chat. The face-to-face session have been on pause since March 2020 and recently they have been conducted virtually and translated well to an online setting. In the rest of her presentation Louise gave practical tips and advice for anyone wanting to run intergenerational activities based on learning from running the ‘Songs and Smiles’ programme, in terms of the essential A’s of intergenerational experiences: Awareness, Authenticity, Anticipation and Assessment.

Awareness is about seeing your project through other’s eyes, Authenticity is about relishing the realness and avoiding risk aversion, Anticipation is about preparing for success and assessment is about evaluating your project.

Mirain Llwyd Roberts (coordinator of Bridging the Generations, Gwynedd Council) followed with a presentation about her research (funded by Kess 2 European funding and Gwynedd Council) on the challenges and obstacles facing intergenerational projects, with an update on lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mirain explained that North Wales is very rural, which is an obstacle in itself. The research involved a scoping review, nationwide online survey to learn more about intergenerational work across Wales and 4 local case studies (primary school and care home, primary school and sheltered housing, primary school and extra care housing scheme, further education college and locals from the community).

The scoping review revealed the importance of planning, the importance of thinking about the benefits to both generations / everyone involved, the importance of preparation for everyone involved before beginning the project (e.g. dementia friends sessions for the children) so that they are fully aware of what to expect, the true potential of intergenerational work is yet to be understood, time (e.g. how often should we meet, how long should the sessions be) can vary depending on the project. Two surveys (one for those participating in intergenerational activities and one for those who were not) found the following challenges and obstacles: tradition, importance within education, importance of media, social conscience, friendships, lack of knowledge (locally), knowledge (benefits), time, jobs. The 4 case studies revealed the following challenges and obstacles: time, extra costs, numbers of people, adaptability and support, extra workload.

Covid-19 has caused another huge obstacle and has forced us think about how to support people involved in the intergenerational project during the pandemic. It is importance to remember that, eve if we can’t bring people together face-to-face, we can still achieve the lowest level of the intergenerational contact continuum proposed by Kaplan (2004), which is raise awareness regarding issues of aging with children and young people (e.g. dementia friends session). When adapting the intergenerational project to the pandemic, Mirain found that going online is not always the answer – it is not acceptable to some older people and it was necessary to think of other ways to continue intergenerational activities.

Mirain finished her presentation with information about National Intergenerational week, taking place online this year.

The next presentation was a double act byKeith Oliver and Jess Shaw, collaborators on the Time and Place online poetry project. Keith and Jess have known each other for about 3 ½ years, having worked together on 2 intergenerational projects when Jess was a University Undergraduate student. Keith is an active voice for people living with dementia and has been involved in many projects and workshops and is usually busy travelling around sharing his experiences. The collaboration began when Jess became a volunteer helping people like Keith, living with dementia, to write a film script and grew into a friendship. Keith and Jess then co-lead an intergenerational poetry project which was the subject of their presentation.

Keith spoke about how, for him now living with dementia, connections – if both parties are happy with it – can lead to friendship, respect, communication, trust and exchanges of mutual interest in the other person. For him, and many others, this counterbalances the frustration that dementia so easily brings about.

Jess described how students and people living with dementia can be a great combination as both groups can feel quite isolated. Increasingly, there are housing projects that combine young and older adults with great success such as the combined housing in America where art students live for free alongside older people on the condition that they perform and take part in the community activities. Such intergenerational living allows people to interact, share and learn from each other – it is a 2-way street.

The 6-week Time and Place poetry project, funded by the University of Kent community scholarship fund, was joint lead by Keith, Jess and Liz Jennings. Keith brought the dementia contacts and perspective. Liz Brought the poetry knowledge and creativity. Jess coordinated the student volunteers. It was originally going to be inspired by the City of Canterbury, where they were all based, and take place in the city library. However, due to Covid-19, they decided to deliver it online through weekly videos posted to Liz’s blog (and printed instructions to one participant who did not have internet access). The videos were posted weekly and participants could post their poems in the comments throughout the week. There were fortnightly virtual meetings to discuss and share the poetry. The method of delivery worked week and the move online allowed inclusion of participants from further afield. Positives were that it showed people that they could learn new skills, gave all involved a focus and purpose during lockdown and provided a way to talk about the experience of dementia.

A book of the poems, illustrated by one of the participants, has been published as a keepsake for the participants and is available from Amazon for £4.99. The publication of the book was funded by DEEP and all profits from the sales go to DEEP. Keith stated, of all the things he has done as a voice for dementia, it is the Time and Place project that he is most proud about because it could so easily have been wreaked by Covid-19 but they turned it into something that, in the words of one participant had saved their life. Keith stated that to do something that can have such a positive impact on people is immensely humbling and rewarding. Keith finished the presentation by reading a few of his poems from the book.

Sue Egersdorff, the founder of Ready Generations, was the next presenter, who spoke about creating connection between generations via an intergenerational nursery that is currently in the planning phase. Sue explained that she has spent over 30 years working with children from birth to age 7 and, even in the early days, she knew that something very magical happens when you bring young children and older people together – they do not see age as a barrier to their connection, they just see the love that can be shared between them. This motivated Sue, together with others, to create the charity Ready Generations last year with the aim of joy and playfulness between generations.

One of the aims of Ready Generations is to start building an evidence bank on the impact of what we are achieve and working on in intergenerational care. Sue stated that we need to bring our idea together and present them in ways that influence commissioners and policy and decision makers. Sue learnt, from working on the Sure Start programme, that to make change happen and make change stick we must start from what matters to people in our communities, what they feel is important, not from what we as experts feel we could deliver and what we feel is in their best interests. We need to listen and respond. Sue also learnt that policy makers, who have to make big decisions about big pots of money, want evidence of impact and, with intergenerational activities, one of the challenges we may face is how we can provide hard evidence to convince others it is worth investing in our way of thinking. Quantitative evidence, in particular, is lacking.

The Ready Generations team’s starting point in thinking about the intergenerational nursery was understanding the “flow of community resilience”: what matters in local communities, what matters in neighbourhoods?

The nursery provision is underpinned by the concept of “primary gifts”, adapted from The Good Life Model used by the probationary service when reintroducing serious offenders from prison into public life.

To prove the potential impact of the nursery’s work the Ready Generations team turned to neuroscience to understand how our cognition works over our lifetime and saw that they needed to ensure that the activities they provide help young children’s cognition improve and develop, sustain level of cognition of any adults working with them and help stop cognitive decline in older adults. When planning activities they considered the impact on 5 areas of cognition: attention, episodic memory, working memory, processing speed and executive function. Furthermore, before beginning any activities it is necessary to understand the important of attuned relationships – it is important not to just throw young children and older people together without preparation: preparing the space, thinking about the activity, thinking about how the senses will respond and what may make the participants fearful, overexcited or dissociate.

The intergenerational nursery will be about bringing young children and older people together to learn together, with clear learning outcomes for both parties based on the “mirrored learning framework”. The hope is to end up with something that belongs to everyone, is shaped by everyone and everyone contributes.

The intergenerational nursery will be sited at the new Belong Chester retirement and assisted living facility. Belong was a natural partner for the project as their thinking aligns with that of Ready Generations and from the start the project had the buy-in of Belong senior management.

The presenters’ enthusiasm for their work was extremely evident. Stephen began by being optimistic and encouraging about what we may be able to achieve when we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic and made us think about how we might rethink civic spaces and structures and how we might think differently about how services work together and come together. Rather than continuing to put people into silos such as early years, youth services, older people’s services, etc. in the future we may provide human services. Sue showed us how a service that belongs to everyone and brings young and old together through shared, mutually beneficial activities can become reality in the intergenerational nursery planned by Ready Generations and Belong.

Kirsten Reeves was an additional, last minute, bonus speaker who described a project called Joining Generations with Imagination, run by Debutots, that brings together older people living in care homes and pre-school/nursery children. Kirsten launched the project 3 years ago in Worcestershire and it is based around regular sessions, at care homes, of structured interactive storytelling and unstructured play involving books, dressing up and music. Following a successful pilot at a Worcestershire care home in, it was then rolled out to 17 care homes in Worcestershire and then across UK and Northern Ireland. The project is now being run in nearly 50 care homes. Kirsten re-iterated the message from the other presenters that planning is crucial to success and is necessary before starting the project at each location. She also stated that regular sessions, rather than the more common once a year visits of children to care homes, e.g. at Christmas, ensures continuity, provides repetition and allows familiarity and relationships to form for the two groups of participants. Kirsten spoke of the observed benefits for older care home residents such as improved communication and social interaction. The plan is now to roll out the project to older people living in their own homes in local communities

The attendees’ found the presentations very useful and informative (see quotes below). The chat box served as place for networking during the webinar and many new contacts were made.

“Thank you to all the presenters.  A truly inspiring afternoon.  Leaving with a kitbag full of new and innovative ideas.  Awesome.”

“Excellent Webinar program and exciting ideas and things to bring back to my Age Friendly Louisville group in which we have working on intergenerational projects and activities for the last year. Makes 2021 a hopeful and promising year. Thanks to everyone today.”

“Thank you for such an inspiring webinar – what a rich variety of speakers and projects.”

“Thank you – it has been an interesting and inspiring afternoon.”

“Lots of ideas to inspire and reflect upon.”

“I thought the line-up of speakers was fantastic and it was very inspiring.”

“It was both inspiring and enlightening webinar and I am very grateful to be able to participate in it.”

“Thank you so much for such a brilliant webinar – it was wonderful to see and hear dear friends and colleagues talk about such wonderful work.”

“Today’s HDRC webinar was really informative.”

“Every speaker was so passionate and inspiring, and there was a great range of topics.”

The recording of the webinar and additional information/resources are available on the HDRC website.

Connect with the HDRC on twitter @HousingDementia

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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