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Intergenerational Care – Why Nurseries Should Connect with Care Homes

There are many good reasons to bring young children and the elderly together…

  • Intergenerational Care – Why Nurseries Should Connect with Care Homes

The question of how best to deliver care to the elderly is rarely far from the headlines these days, and it is only going to become more pressing.

With the UK’s population aging and many care providers struggling to remain financially sustainable, there is a growing understanding that something needs to change – both in terms of how costs are met, a challenge also facing the early years sector, but also in our approach to ensuring the mental wellbeing of the elderly in an increasingly fragmented and time-poor society.

A growing body of opinion suggests that integrating early years provision and aged care could help to address both of these issues.

It’s an approach that has gained some momentum in the US – where there are several hundred instances of ‘intergenerational’ care provision – and Canada, as well as in Japan, which is credited with coming up with the idea in the first place.

And the revolution has, perhaps, begun in the UK, with the recent opening of the first UK setting to occupy the same site as a care home, Apples and Honey Nightingale in Clapham, London.

The business case for intergenerational care is easy to understand. There are, the experts say, opportunities for providers willing and able to straddle both sectors, and in particular colocate their services, to benefit financially and logistically in terms of the “design and operation of shared facilities”.

In sectors where margins are tight, this alone could bring early years and aged care provision together with increasing regularity in the future.

But money isn’t everything, and the potential gains from intergenerational care to care home residents’ wellbeing, as well as young children’s personal, social and emotional development, shouldn’t be overlooked.

Apples & Honey Nightingale

The colocation of Apples & Honey, a 30-place nursery run as a social enterprise, and Nightingale House, which serves the Jewish community and cares for around 200 residents, is a great example of how closely early years and aged care settings can operate where circumstances allow.

Built upon a 26-year relationship between nursery owner Judith Ish-Horowicz’s first setting, the ‘outstanding’ rated Apples & Honey Wimbledon, and the operators of the care home, it’s about far more than shared use of space: “meaningful intergenerational activity is at the heart of the nursery”, with daily activities – from making soup to painting alphabet tiles – planned to involve children and residents.

Children visit the care home, and the residents in turn visit the nursery, with both groups enjoying meals together. “It lifts the mood and brings new life into the home – the residents love the children,” Susan Cohen of the care home’s operator, Nightingale Hammerson, comments.

The potential for intergenerational care to address the sense of social isolation and loneliness that can affect elderly care home residents is a significant part of the concept’s appeal.

Of course, for the majority of existing early years providers, opening a setting in close proximity to a care home is unlikely to be a viable option in the short term. But there are simpler ways to bring the young and old together that can still yield meaningful benefits.

Lexden Lodge Kindergarten

At ‘outstanding’ Lexden Lodge Kindergarten in Colchester, Essex, a partnership with nearby care home The Oaks is flourishing. Every two weeks a small group of children from the nursery’s over-threes room don their high-vis jackets and walk the short distance to the care home.

Once there, they spend an hour and a half to two hours interacting with their hosts, painting pictures, playing with playdough, blowing bubbles and exploring the garden area. The setting has been welcoming children’s grandparents in for several years, but jumped at this chance to bring different generations together.

“The Oaks contacted us back in March 2017,” Mahila Samarbakhsh, principal at Lexden Lodge, explains. “We hadn’t tried anything like it before, but we replied to them straight away, saying ‘yes please’ and ‘what can we do?’ We wrote to our parents, asking for permission, and we just went from there.”

The visits proved successful from the outset. “It didn’t feel awkward at all,” remembers Lexden Lodge’s manager, Angela McQuitty.

“The children went in and started talking to the residents as if they’d known them for ages. There are no expectations with children at this age – they don’t even notice if some of the older people have mobility issues, for example. It’s wonderful to see.

“At the first session,” she continues, “around four residents came out, but as the weeks have passed, that number has grown. At the next visit it was six residents, then it was eight. Last time we couldn’t all fit into the space. We know they look forward to it because on one occasion when we were about 10 minutes late, they were waiting for us at the front of the building!”

Alongside the fortnightly visits, residents have also spent time at the nursery, attending a tea party in August prior to the children’s departure for school. On this occasion nursery staff laid out a selection of traditional games that their visitors would be familiar with, and which intrigued the children, encouraging shared engagement.

Both Mahila and Angela highlight the positive effect their visits are having on the care home’s residents – including the touching example of the resident who, without fail, saves the children’s paintings and brings them along to every gathering – but they also stress their educational value, from giving children a positive view of the elderly that will last long after they’ve left nursery, to the displays of empathy they have witnessed that might not be expected from ones so young.

They also identify wider learning opportunities – they plan to ask residents to share photographs of their families, and to get children to do the same, opening up opportunities to discuss the passing of time and consider how the way we live has changed in living memory.

Lexden Lodge’s visits to The Oaks have been running for only a few months, but in bringing children and residents together they have found a way to connect with their local community that is making a real difference, and which can be easily replicated.

Today’s the day…

Intergenerational partnerships can take many forms…

In July Forest Row Community Pre-school in East Sussex hosted its first joint Annual Teddy Bears’ picnic for children and elderly members of the community, continuing its close links with a local seniors club.

Children prepared for the event, which received donations of cakes, biscuits and drinks from local businesses, by making party hats and discussing the excitement to come.

“We are lucky to have made some really strong connections that the children can only benefit from,” the preschool’s supervisor, Jade Turnbull-Allen noted. “We are teaching them to be contributing members of the community, and about the value of others. Hopefully this will continue on after they have left us for ‘big’ school.”

“Being able to bring together these ‘bookend generations’ brings great joy to both the elderly and the young,” agreed community services officer Sara Smart. “In a society where families can be separated by distance or busy lives, it is increasingly important that we bring these two generations together.”

Interested in exploring intergenerational care? Visit unitedforallages.com, a social enterprise working to create a ‘Britain for all ages’.

To watch/listen to more about Lexden Lodge Kindergarten’s partnership with The Oaks, visit lexdenlodge.co.uk/news.

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