There’s no denying society is disconnected – a quick walk down the street and you’ll witness endless people strolling, heads down, staring at their phones. On public transport people hardly register one another (if they can help it) and as for our neighbours? We barely know them.
So it’s unsurprising perhaps that Britain is also one of the most age-segregated countries in the world, particularly for the oldest and youngest generations, according to a new report from United For All Ages.
Bringing young and older people together can be hugely beneficial. It can help tackle some of the biggest social issues facing future generations, the think tank argued, from poor health, anxiety and loneliness to educational attainment and social mobility.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said we should take inspiration from other countries. One Italian town, for example, invited teenage boys to meet with older women and make pasta.
“Working on the pasta together there was no real pressure to talk about themselves, but rather a sense of acceptance as they contributed to the communal effort and achievement,” said Longfield. “It’s something we can learn a lot from.
“Offering children time, companionship and a fresh perspective to today’s challenges can go a long way to building the confidence and resilience children so desperately need. It might not mean making pasta, but I think mixing up the generations has so much to offer young and older people.”
Intergenerational projects can boost confidence, skills and opportunities for children and young people while changing attitudes towards ageing. So how can we bridge the gap between old and young in Britain?
1. Singing Groups
The Together Project is committed to tackling the issue of age segregation, which has been gradually getting worse in the UK for 25 years. It devises activities which bring together at least two different age groups who would otherwise not come into contact.
HuffPost UK attended one of the project’s intergenerational singing sessions called ‘Songs and Smiles’ before Christmas, which saw new parents and their babies and toddlers visiting a local care home and singing carols alongside elderly residents. Currently the sessions operate in London and Surrey, however there’s scope for this model to be carried out across the UK. Find out how to attend a singing session here.
There are lots of ways for young and older people to meet, especially through volunteering and charity work. Charities like Age UK and Contact The Elderly have opportunities available – like befriending – where you can get involved and meet older people, who might otherwise be feeling lonely.
3. Community Activities
North and South London Cares are aiming to bridge the huge divide between young professionals and elderly people living in London. They set up weekly activities such as film clubs, craft clubs, choirs, games nights, pub clubs, podcast clubs and more. It’s also worth checking out your local council’s newsletter or library (if it’s still open) for more community news and events.
4. Meet The Neighbours
If you’ve clocked you have elderly neighbours, why not pop over to see them and introduce yourself? Almost three quarters of people (73%) don’t know their neighbours’ names and half don’t feel part of a ‘neighbourly community’, a survey by Skipton Building Society revealed. Alternatively simply stopping for a chat in the street can be a great way to break the ice, if you don’t want to brave knocking on their door.
5. Encourage Your Child’s Nursery To Team Up With Care Homes
United For All Ages is calling for every nursery, childminder, parent/toddler group and children’s centre to link with a local older people’s care home or housing scheme – and vice versa.
Intergenerational-nurseries – ones which share spaces with a care home – have been shown to reduce loneliness in older people and boost their mental and physical health. Anyone who watched Channel 4′s ‘Old People’s Home For 4 Year-Olds’ over Christmas will have seen the results.
And parents whose children attend Apples and Honey Nightingale in Clapham, London, say they’ve seen the benefits go both ways, with their toddlers being introduced to a new range of life skills. Find out more here.