Nov 2018: The benefits of young visitors

Care, Health

Residents at Baycroft’s Orpington home have played host to some of their neighbours: pupils from Grays Farm School. The benefits of mixing generations can be huge – here’s how it works for Baycroft.

In Tokyo in 1976, Shimada Masahuru set up what is thought to be the world’s first intergenerational care home. Providing for older residents while looking after young children in the same space might seem like a recipe for chaos, but Masahuru saw that older people found a new lease of life and happiness with regular visits from the children.

After the success of the scheme in Japan, care homes worldwide took part in the experiment. The beneficial effects can be astonishing, with friendships formed between people born a lifetime apart.

Community spirit

One of the lovely things about young children visiting older people is how they talk and communicate with each other as part of a small community.

Children can noticeably develop their communication skills and empathy in this kind of arrangement. Yet it’s the profound impact on the older people who take part that is the perhaps the most impressive aspect.

Baycroft’s Clare Georgiou, our Lifestyle and Wellbeing Coordinator, is won over by the idea.

“When pupils from Grays Farm School visit,” she says, “the relationships with the children give our residents a sense of worth, and of real purpose. It’s a wonderful experience to watch them interact.”

The emotional impact is huge, but there is also evidence that the physical and mental health of older people improves too.

For example, a Bristol care home, the subject of Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, found that after spending six weeks with children the mood, mobility and memory of its residents had improved.

Arts and crafts

Creative activities are the order of the day when the children visit, and mixed groups of adults and children decorate a cake together, or paint, or complete a puzzle.

There’s a cookery club, and a sewing club to make things to take home, like lavender bags. On the next visit, the plan is to make Christmas cards. (Unfortunately, we aren’t taking orders.)

Lucie Osborne is a teaching assistant at Grays Farm, and brought her Reception class to the Orpington home. She is full of praise for the system. “I can’t think of one negative thing about the experience”, she says. “The residents, even those who are less mobile and found it harder to do the activities, loved chatting to the children. Everyone genuinely enjoyed being there.”

It helped the children learn that Baycroft is an “inviting environment” and, as Lucie points out, one that “doesn’t feel like an old people’s home”. The children can forge positive relationships with older people – and for those who don’t have grandparents of their own, it was all the more valued.

Looking ahead

Grays Farm School visited every week over the summer, and we have just begun a monthly series of visits from nearby Riverside School as well. As of mid-November, Grays Farm will be visiting us again with their new cohort of Reception-age pupils.

The happiness that the visits bring to residents is palpable. It also raises many interesting questions for the future in the way that a community-style system of care can be fulfilling and helpful for all.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to welcome our young visitors and the fun, energy and joy they bring with them.