Today I have a special guest post from Clare Helen Walsh as part of the blog tour for her beautiful picture book, ‘The Tide,’ illustrated by Ashling Lindsay. In this emotional story we get a child’s perspective on the memory loss of her beloved grandfather. Clare has created a thoughtful post on the value of intergenerational friendships to celebrate ‘Dementia Action Week.’
‘The value of intergenerational friendships’– Dementia Action Week 2019
To celebrate the launch of my new picture book, The Tide, (beautifully illustrated by Ashling Lindsay and published by Little Tiger Press), I wanted to find out how we can all do more to support older people living in our community.
The Tide, which touches on themes of growing older, empathy and dementia, likens a Grandad’s memories to the ebbing, flowing rhythm of the ocean. Recently, there has been a big rise in the profile of intergenerational projects, including school visits into nursing homes, community lunches, memory cafes… perhaps with thanks to programmes such as ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ (Channel 4, 2017) But what is the motivation behind such projects and what are the benefits for those involved?
Dementia Action Week seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out more. Ipplepen Primary School in Devon are one such school who have been making intergenerational links in their community since 2017 and I was excited to find out first-hand the value in bringing younger and older people together.
I began with a visit to the school and used a reading of The Tide as a hook for a dementia workshop, gauging the children’s understanding and interest in the disease. Several of the Year Six’s were able to talk about their personal experiences and others about what they had heard or already knew. We discussed how to define ‘memory’ and ‘dementia’ and then played a short True or False Quiz available from the Alzheimer’s Society website. I was particularly impressed that the children knew it was possible to live well with dementia and they knew dementia is more than just difficulty remembering. A very keen and knowledgable group of young people.
The children then told me about what they thought of their experience volunteering at the monthly community lunches;
“I enjoyed a conversation with a blind man about his guide dog and blindness. He appreciated the opportunity to discuss his experiences and how he had become blind aged 60 and how his dog was his lifeline, barking to warn him of dangers and helping him to do things.”
“I discovered that a man shared an interest in planes with me. Despite sometimes forgetting day to day events, this man enjoyed discussing various types of aircraft, in particular how he had flown to Spain on Concord!”
“I enjoyed sharing memories with a gentleman who was a child in World War 2. The man explained to me how there were so many air raids when he was a child that they never had to do a drill because they had to go to the air raid shelters very often!”
And another child discussed her involvement in Pioneers with a gentleman. He was very interested in this and went on to tell her all about how he was once in the scouts and all the badges he had worked for.
The school staff validated what the children appeared to glean from their volunteer work, speaking glowingly about the atmosphere at the events and how proud they are of their children.
“I am always impressed with how sensible and mature the children are. They are only 10 and 11 years old. Talking to people they don’t know must be difficult at first. But they ask things like ‘Can I help you? Would you like some more water?’ Lots of them are nervous the first time they go, but they come back and talk about how much they enjoyed it. The community lunches give the children a chance to develop a confidence and expertise relating to others. One of the nicest things is that both groups realise they have things in common. ‘I’m 97 and you’re ten but we can share a joke together!’ said one guest.”
The organisers of the lunches also praise the community links highly;
“Some of our old folk do not see anyone for days on end. If they live away from their own families, they have little contact with children. They enjoy the contact at lunch time with us. They are happy to talk and really appreciate the different characteristics of the young folk and more than happy to ask about school, their hobbies etc.
The youngsters seem very aware of problems that older folk may have, some are able to relate to their older relatives. That some of our folk are in their 90’s, even 100 or more stretches their imagination until they meet them on the day! And they seem to appreciate the responsibility they have to help at mealtime.
That everything is a voluntary part of community life is good for them to appreciate and see in action.
Having to explain the lunch club to the children before they come is good for us – it means we reflect on what we do, how and why we do it.”
As a reward for the school’s time, effort and achievements, I arranged for the children to participate in a carousel of three memory related activities;
1) Memory Beach Poetry; The children picked a memory important to them, be it happy, sad, silly or something else, and shared some of the details of this memory with the group. We drew and illustrated these onto paper cup sandcastles and used them to create short poems based on what we could feel, see, hear, smell, taste and remember.
2) Sand Clay Keepsake; The children created a piece of art from a dough mixed with sand, salt, flour and water. These could either be for themselves, to remember the session, or for a loved one. Aren’t they beautiful?
3) A mixed-media Memory Collage; The children also chose to create a class Memory Board of their local area, using a range of photographs, pastels, watercolours, fabric and collage. The children are going to present the work at the next Community Lunch. What a treat!
It was clear from my visit to Ipplepen School, that their intergenerational projects are having a positive impact on the wellbeing and quality of life of the residents and school alike. The children have the opportunity to enrich the lives of older people in their community through empathy, fun and humour. Children develop skills interacting with others, which will surely support future employment and a happy community. They show a greater understanding of how it feels to grow old, including of diseases such as dementia.
Equally, there is a reduction in the loneliness and isolation among the older people in the village. Discussion about how to care for each other will hopefully be filtering through families, friends and the community.
I hope this short piece inspires you to find out more about the projects in your community. If you’re a school with your own community projects, I’d love to hear more!
And a very big thank you to the children and staff at Ipplepen Primary School, and to the organisers of the community lunches, for allowing me to find out more about the important work you do. You should feel very proud of all you achieve, and I am sure many others will be inspired by your journey.
Thank you to Clare for this insightful guest post and to Lauren and Little Tiger for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The TIde,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.