It might seem like a bit of a cliche, but friendships across the generational divide really can work for everyone. We’re not just talking about the magic between grandparents and grandchildren, we mean the friendships which can grow between neighbours of different generations or the relationships which develop when people who wouldn’t normally meet suddenly spend time together. There are predictable but also unpredictable benefits all round.
We’ve come across a great charity set up by care home group, Abbeyfield and called Click!. It is an IT mentoring project which gets volunteer young people, aged 16-25, to partner with care home residents and teach them how to use technology. Its not always easy for a 16 year old to explain the internet at a pace and in terms which an 80 year old can understand, but it is hugely rewarding. It gives the volunteers a sense of their own value and builds their self confidence, and it enables the care home residents to use the internet to reduce feelings of isolation. They are finally able to send emails to friends and family, see their grandchildren on Skype, order gifts online, even play online Scrabble with strangers. But beyond that, the older people really appreciate having the schoolchildren around in the care home, bringing a vitality they often miss, and the volunteer mentors speak of how they come to see ‘old people’ in a new light as they hear some of the amazing stuff they have done with their lives. In many cases the volunteers carry on visiting their new friends long after the 12 week project finishes.
We also know of groups of schoolchildren who go into local care homes each week to do some gardening with the residents, or to dance for them, or talk to them about their memories of their own school days. All of these connections are worthwhile, and valuable, creating links between generations which seem to be increasingly rare in communities where families often live far from grandparents, where many older people have no children or grandchildren, and where life is lived at such a pace that older people feel and often are invisible. As we all live longer and more and more of us will end up in care homes, it would be great to see more projects like Click!, more schools looking for opportunities to do more than sing carols in the local care home once a year.
Do you know of a great project that bridges the generation gap? Join the Age Space forum and tell us more!