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Early years bridging the generation gap in Bristol

Projects which bring together Bristol’s older people with youngsters are setting up across Bristol in a bid to unite generations, strengthen communities and reduce social isolation.

The positive impact that intergenerational working can have recently featured in a Channel 4 documentary, Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, which highlighted the benefits of young children visiting care homes. There are many other projects following a similar path across the city.

Councillor Claire Hiscott, Cabinet Member for education and skills, said: “Children’s centres have a key part to play in keeping older people connected to their local communities, so we are encouraging all centres to consider ways to promote intergenerational learning. Bristol’s a Learning City, which means we believe in partnership working to promote learning at all ages, and the benefits of this can be truly remarkable. Both older people and young children can benefit from interacting with each other.”

Examples of children’s centres and nurseries leading the way in connecting with older members of society can be found across the city.

Southern Links Children’s Centre in Stockwood has been regularly taking children, along with their parents, on visits to the local Hengrove Lodge care home. Stockwood has a high percentage of older people living in the area so the children’s centre is also looking at other ways to decrease social isolation and make sure residents feel part of the community.

Lil Bower, Centre Manager at the children’s centre, said: “It’s amazing to see how the older people wake up in the presence of the children – the joy is plain to see on their faces. One of the most remarkable moments so far has been one lady who suffers with dementia being able to recall her son’s name after meeting a little boy from our children’s centre. When I asked her previously whether she had children of her own she wasn’t sure. The visits have been such a success that we’re now looking at extending these to other care homes in the area.”

Knowle West Early Years Centre is also thinking innovatively about intergenerational work and is developing an art project to create a wall hanging celebrating memories of the local area. Parents from the centre are working with older people on the artwork, and they recently took a trip to Cirencester together on the community bus to visit a Grayson Perry tapestry exhibition for inspiration.  Alongside this the centre is working in partnership with Knowle West Media Centre on a project where grandparents attend a weekly group with their grandchildren to explore new experiences together and record stories about what it means to be a grandparent.

Sarah Salmon, headteacher at the centre, said: “We need to change our perceptions of ageing and value the contributions that older people can make to our society. We have found this part of the population has so much to give and they enjoyed being a part of things that are going on at the centre, so much so that we’ve recently invited some of the older members of our community to join the children for lunch. The children have also joined the local walking group run by the Healthy Living Centre in Filwood, so they can get out and about with older people too.”

Other examples can be found at Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre, which is bringing generations together by regenerating the local park and community centre, supported by the Rotary Club. Children from Beckett Hall Nursery have been been visiting a local care home for the past year, and the managers are hoping to bring the residents to the nursery for the children’s Christmas play. The Southville Community Development Association was involved with the Channel 4 documentary and some of the children have continued to visit the older people they met as part of the programme. The children have also started to visit another local care home and managers are looking towards European models, such as where nurseries are based within care homes, to see what they can learn.