15th Nov, 2019

Solihull project unites generations as care home opens its doors to pre-school children

Sarah Mason 6th Jun, 2018

CARE homes are often seen as a place of calm, serenity and quiet.

Nurseries are often seen as places of noise, running games and an explosion of toys and craft items.

But when the two come together it seems the special bonds created being the two generations bring something out of the other.

Or at least that seemed to be the case in Solihull as St Bernards care home welcomed children from Tender Years nursery.

Organisers of an intergenerational project met with Observer deputy editor Sarah Mason to discuss what happens at sessions and the impact it has on residents and the children.

“This is the most powerful project I have been involved with in my 28 years,” says Lisa Whitehouse, owner of Tender Years Nursery. “The bonds that have been created between the children and adults in such a short space of time is magical.

“It’s amazing what these sessions have done for the children, some of them had low confidence levels and wouldn’t try new things for fear of failing – now they are the first to have a go.”

Inspired by the connections seen in the Channel 4 documentary Old People’s Homes For Four Year Olds, Lisa wanted to do something special for those at the Castle Lane nursery.

She got hold of the Engage team at Solihull council last August to see if it could help set up a pioneering project for the borough.

After four months of hard work and meetings, the day came when five children went to what has since been dubbed ‘The Big House’ and met five of the residents.

Lisa said the children were at first very reserved and cautious and didn’t interact much with the residents.

Lisa said at the pilot project the children were seen to have low self-confidence and often wouldn’t have a go at new things.

But there was a magical moment at an early session which soon turned the project around, and a stark difference began to show through in both the pre-schoolers and the elderly.

Lisa said: “One of the boys gave a resident a hug which became contagious and everyone ended up hugging – this was a turning point for us.”

Every Thursday morning the children race down the corridor at The Big House, find their adult and get stuck into one of the carefully thought-out activities – from making bird feeders to bubble play or even feeding the ducks at Brueton Park.

Lisa said: “They are also learning about new things about what the residents did when they were younger, and have learnt that when something is special we have to treat it carefully.”

Between the sessions, Felicity Ellis, activities manager at St Bernards, said the residents considered what things to share about their lives.

One now has a new collection of story books which he reads to the children.

She added: “The atmosphere just changes at the home when the children are coming – it amazing to see.

“They bring an energy to the home even when they’re not there.”

Before the first and second 11-week programme St Bernards carried out a number of tests on its residents measuring depression, anxiety and isolation.

The results from the first one saw those involved in the programme have lower scores and staff noticed they were isolating themselves less and joining in activities more – the second programme is still in progress.

She added: “We wanted to try and get something we could measure and monitor so completed the PHQ [depression questionnaire] before and after our programme.

“The results were incredible.”

These results have been shared with Dr Zoe Wyrko, consultant geriatrician at University Hospital Birmingham, one of those involved with the study on the Channel 4 documentary.

Felicity did add that some of the residents involved in the first project did seem to ask a lot of questions about why the children didn’t visit them when the second group arrived.

Both the St Bernards and Tender Years agreed they would like to continue the programme as there were positive impacts for both children and the elderly.

Throughout the process the care home and nursery have been working with the Engage team, and the three have created a ‘tool kit’ which contains all the forms and resources needed with plans to use it for new pairings.

Felicity said she would like to see if she could get some residents and teenagers together for a gardening project at St Bernards.

Solihull council also wants to focus on opening up the care sector to teenagers through work experience, so the perception of a caring career could be seen as something to aim for rather than a fall-back option.

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