While an ageing population is testament to the benefits of having the NHS and a social care system in place, this increased longevity creates a challenge of how society can help combat social isolation and loneliness among older people.
Two Hanover Housing Association Retirement Housing developments in Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, have been looking at what can be done to promote active ageing among residents, and help bring older and younger generations from the community together that would be beneficial for both groups.
Hanover’s estate manager, Candy Sands, approached the local Yorke Mead Primary School to encourage pupils to take part in a programme where they would visit residents from Hanover Court and Cherwell Close estates every other week to socialise and play games.
During the sessions, residents enjoy intergenerational playtime with the children while sipping squash, catching up on the latest playground gossip and recounting the days when they themselves were at school. This type of contact can help with emotional and overall health and wellbeing issues.
Candy Sands said: ‘Residents and children always look forward to the visits, with both thoroughly enjoying the interaction. It has also been a great opportunity for them to learn something new from each other. There is plenty of laughter and lots of smiles, so it has been a really rewarding experience for everyone involved.’
One of the residents, 80-year-old Barbara Fone, particularly enjoys the sessions as they bring back fond memories of her school days. On one occasion during the spring of 1942, whilst attending her after school bread and jam club, she was called out of class by the head teacher to meet a very special visitor. Although she didn’t recognise her visitor, she was soon reduced to tears of joy as she was meeting her father for the very first time.
Barbara said: ‘Whilst I enjoy living on this estate, surrounded by beautiful gardens and fantastic common room, I do get a little lonely sometimes. Playing with and talking to the school kids really lifts my spirits. The children are very tolerant of us oldies - what is really nice is when we go to the shops we are now greeted by children who attend playtimes.’
According to the recent Age UK report ‘Making Intergenerational Connections’ (pdf, 1.4MB), extended intergenerational contact is likely to improve attitudes towards older adults. The report suggests that, when children and young people take part in intergenerational activity, they are far more likely to share their good experiences with others and encourage them to join in.
Intergenerational playtimes in Croxley Green take place every couple of weeks and are well attended. The estate is shortly planning to expand intergenerational playtimes to older people within the community.