The Importance of Intergenerational Social Action

May 6, 2020
The Importance of Intergenerational Social Action

There are so many stories across the media, particularly during lockdown, that celebrate all the good work taking place, bringing our communities together. Lots of these stories focus on different age groups supporting one another. Intergenerational projects are positive and effective ways of continuing to strengthen community links. Focusing on bringing together members of the community from all different ages, from the oldest to the youngest and everyone in between, intergenerational projects are a core component of building community.

Research carried out by the United Nations shows that by the year 2050, the number of people over the age of 60 is projected to rise by 50% in developed countries and triple in developing countries, with global life expectancy increasing to 75 years. Added to this, families are becoming smaller with more young people postponing marriage, having fewer children and several generations of the same family no longer living in the same household. Safe to say, the world is changing.

The importance of creating intergenerational relationships is crucial, now more than ever, when we see segregation across many parts of our communities. The UN’s report, ‘Family Policy in a Changing World: Promoting Social Protection and Intergenerational Solidarity’ states that:

‘...meaningful relationships based on mutual understanding between intergenerational family members are indispensable for social integration and cohesion’.

At the Youth Trust, we believe that enabling young people to lead social action within their communities not only brings about benefits for the people that they are serving, but also for the young people themselves. We are constantly blown away by stories of generations being brought together through social action, with lasting relationships built.

Not only do intergenerational social action projects help different age groups relate to one another, they also encourage a breakdown of stereotypes, cultivating a space for empathy and understanding to grow between generations. Cultural traditions can be valued and passed down, whilst meaningful relationships can be pursued. Also, young people can practice and learn communication skills, improving their confidence to speak to people who they may not normally talk to.

A United for All Ages report, highlighted that bringing young and older people together can tackle issues facing the next generation – from poor health, anxiety and loneliness, to educational attainment and social mobility. The report also shows the importance of intergenerational projects boosting confidence, skills and opportunities for children and young people, while changing attitudes towards ageing.

Studies have shown that older adults, including those with dementia, have been shown to have improved memory and a more positive outlook as a result of interacting with young children. Some of our Young Leaders have seen this first-hand.

The Young Leaders Award actively encourages young people to engage with projects in their communities, many of which include working with people of different ages and from different social and economic backgrounds. Some of these projects involve working directly with residential care home or specific community projects which focus on the elderly, whilst others focus on family and the support that can be offered there.

Some of our Key Stage 1 Young Leaders have been involved in visits to their local sheltered accommodation. Over several weeks they built relationships by playing games, baking, hosting coffee mornings and garden parties and holding music and movement sessions.

“The children have been engaged with every step of their journey and have looked forward to the session each week! Lots of the children have also engaged with their challenges outside of school too!”

Year 1 Teacher

One of our Key Stage 2 Young Leaders, who has taken part in intergenerational projects at their local residential home, said,  

“People may think that older people go to retirement homes and need help all the time. Furthermore, people think that the younger generation don’t exercise and play on games all the time. This project will change this perception because not all of the older generation need help. They can help us children by teaching us about the past, how we can show respect to local residents and develop a sense of community spirit between two different generations.”

The Young Leaders at one of our Key Stage 3 schools arranged for an art specialist to visit a residential care home so the residents and students could decorate pottery together.  After the event, the young leaders spoke of the benefits of working with the older generation:

‘We wanted the older people to feel more loved and cared for. The older generation won’t be here forever. It’s important to build new memories and relationships. My confidence and compassion have increased, and I have a different perspective towards others.’

Intergenerational social action projects hold many benefits for both the young and old in our communities. Throughout this difficult time in lockdown, we’d love to encourage you to support young people reaching out to the elderly in your communities in a safe way. For ideas of how to do this at home, or in school with the children of key workers, visit out YLA at Home hub. For more ideas on intergenerational social action projects, get in touch with us here.

Watch Key Stage 3 Young Leaders from Bingley Grammar School share their experiences of intergenerational social action:

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