Over the past few years, intergenerational projects have been springing up across the UK and evidence has shown that when different generations meet, everyone benefits.
In recent studies, it was observed that students with older adult tutors make 60 per cent more progress in critical reading skills, and older adults who regularly volunteer with children have been found to burn 20 per cent more calories, experience fewer falls and perform better in memory tests.
In intergenerational projects, old and young are getting together to swap skills and life stories as well as build friendships.
Not only can it can be a fun way of meeting new people, but sharing experiences and learning together across generations can address the negativity sometimes felt by adults towards younger people, and combat negative perceptions that younger people might have of their elders.
Children and young people can benefit from intergenerational activities in other ways too. Engaging with groups of people who they would not usually mix with (such as older people) can encourage them to become more involved citizens. Intergenerational friendships can give young people role models who can motivate and encourage them and share their own experiences.
For older people, engaging with younger people can encourage them to remain active, learn new skills and feel more valued. This can help tackle isolation and loneliness, which is an increasing problem amongst older communities.
Riven Gray is a Kent-based arts teacher who teaches beginners’ classes for all ages. Currently she has students in her classes aged from 12 to 70. “They learn from each other, I've found that preconceptions are broken down. One of my oldest students, (I think she’s in her 70s,) loves manga and anime, which shocks my younger students. Most of the younger people think old people are ‘fuddy-duddies’, but they soon learn this is not the case. They also see that age isn't a barrier; that with art there isn’t an age limit; that young or old they are all beginners and often their tastes are very similar.”
Putting the magic into intergenerational projects
Magic Me is an arts charity that brings different generations together to build a stronger, safer community, and is the UK’s leading provider of intergenerational arts projects. Deborah Mason, Communications Manager, explains what makes their intergenerational projects, such as their ‘Cocktails in Care Homes’ parties, (where young professionals and volunteers create a regular ‘night out’ atmosphere for residents of care homes), so special.
“Magic Me creates projects designed by artists to provide a space for people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures to meet and to get to know one another, and see the world from each other’s viewpoint; it gives older people an opportunity to develop untapped talents and encourages younger people to do the same. It allows young and old, often seen as problematic or burdensome to society, an opportunity to work out their own solutions for their own communities. By giving all participants equal status, regardless of age, younger people are given confidence and develop social skills in a non-school context – talking to adults who aren't family or teachers – and older people reconnect with and independence that may have been eroded by dependence on others for care.”
Deborah believes that it’s important to bring older and younger people together. “It really challenges stereotypes and preconceived thinking about age – one of our school-age participants reported that; ‘At the beginning of the project I thought it would be sad working with older women, but I was surprised, it was not at all, they are so fun and funny’. It also challenges preconceived thinking about the topic or theme of the creative work – bringing people together from different generations, they have different ideas and experiences, they also, often, in East London where we are based, come from different cultures and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Being able to share these differences and build on them to create new work brings the community together, strengthens it and also benefits the individuals taking part.”
Deborah gives an example of one of Magic Me’s recent projects. “Our current ‘Decorum’ project is based on a very successful project of the same name from last year, this saw students from the Mulberry School come together with older women drawn from the community in East London to discuss the idea of ‘Decorum’ or what good behaviour means for women in the 21st Century. The resulting work was performed as part of the Women of the World Festival at the South Bank Centre. A new group of Mulberry School students is now working with the older women to create a number of films and performance elements which will return as a live film interactive installation to the WoW Festival this March.”
If you want to find out more about setting up an intergenerational project, Magic Me has resources on its website, magicme.co.uk and also runs the Intergenerational Hour on twitter (search for the hashtag #InterGenHour to find the next date), which is a quick, informal way to share your own projects, and ask questions of other practitioners.
Deborah explains that intergenerational projects give young and old the chance to see the best things in each other; and allows them to “develop new social skills and confidence. Students, especially those with English as a second or third language, flourish with the one-to-one attention from older adults. Everyone surprises themselves with what they can achieve”.
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