Throughout my life I have heard on repeat the rhetoric of age-bracket activities. From the Under 30s clubs in holiday resorts across the world, to the over 65s clubs in local communities there are many age bound events. Even in school. Games and Sports Day were organised according to year group. There is some common sense and reasoning behind this, but sometimes I think we need to throw age related activities out the window.
Events across the world have been created to help eliminate racial, class and gender discrimination. A new reading scheme (read, write and ink) focuses on teaching reading by ability rather than by age. This means that students of different age groups get to learn together, and it has proven to be successful. There is a clear message, I feel; that age related activities may not always be the best. Encouraging inter-generational activities, and friendships, across all age ranges has many benefits.
UK government departments are promoting inter-generational connections. The Guardian stated that: “that every nursery, childminder and parent-toddler group should develop a relationship with a care home. A think tank has set a target of creating 500 cross-generational sites by 2023.” They highlight how it can work both ways. As the Guardian noted: “much of the focus on intergenerational care had been on the benefits for older people, such as “tackling loneliness and isolation to improving health, care and quality of life, but there are big benefits for children and younger people too.” It is not always our elders who need the most help, sometimes the younger generation can benefit.
Interviewing people around the world, I discovered they liked the idea of having older friends. Ash from London explained: “to be honest, most of my friends are roughly a similar age to myself. I guess with having older friends you get to learn about their experiences and what is important in life. Growing up it was all about how many friends you have rather than the quality. Omar from the UAE said, “when I first started in my international teaching post in the UK I was coaxed into giving a ride to the school’s new librarian, who was from Egypt. He was also new.” It was an unlikely combo with thirty years age difference. At first it was awkward but then Omar says a bond developed. They began to laugh at the same things, much like in a sibling relationship. Natalie, from Canada but working abroad in Kuwait, mentioned that, “I have a lot of older male friends and they are my mentors. They share experiences with me and it has helped me navigate life in more ways than one. They are the best listeners.
Reflecting on my own experiences, I reminisce sometimes about living overseas. I liked to step out and befriend those younger and older. I blended well with another teacher who was American and twenty years older than me. I enjoyed listening to her stories of how she used to participate in protests against the Iraq war. She used to do yoga quite often as a way to release stress and this was something I never quite dabbled in. Looking back, I feel she taught me the techniques that have actually shaped who I am today and who I am becoming. I am now crazy about yoga. It has been nice to befriend people my parents age. I am sure she benefited from having a younger friend too. It was like the time I learnt how to scuba dive and got my confidence from the youngest students on the course (half my age).
I travelled to Kenya with a friend and we met others there. One lady was twenty five years older than us and we gravitated towards her. She told how she had travelled to 160 countries. She also informed us she owned many Japanese restaurants in the UK and we admired her ambition. The thing that struck me more though was that she had ADHD and told us she lost items frequently. When others know about my treasure hunts for my lost items they like to judge and assume me to be careless! I loved befriending this lady twenty five years older than me and knowing that it is OK to be forgetful and to lose things from time to time. I know her entrepreneurial spirit still shone through to me.
Inter-generational friendships can be the light in the lives of individuals and taking the opportunity to listen to those younger and older can help us gain a new perspective on things that we worry about often. Reading the news reports of some elderly individuals who have survived the Spanish Influenza, world wars and Covid-19 is surely something we can take hope from and learn from.
(Orla is a teacher of English, based in Belfast, and she heard about the Irish Chaplaincy from a friend in London)
Irish Chaplaincy Inter-generational Work
The Seniors’ Project of the Chaplaincy has been developing an exciting partnership with Holy Family Primary School in Ealing, West London, and a first event was due to take place in March. This would involve collecting elderly Irish in Ealing and bringing them to the school for tea, served by the pupils, live Irish music, and a fish and chip lunch. It was sadly cancelled due to the coronavirus but in the meantime, the children are making pictures to send to some of the people supported by the Seniors’ project.
We also have several young volunteers, such as Meg, who loves her visits with Mary, and the two of them are pictured below.