Reach Out was a pilot project to investigate how sustainable partnerships can be created between schools and residential homes. The project raised awareness of isolation in older age and helped to demystify the stigma surrounding dementia and ageing for the children taking part; "At first I was worried when I went the first week, but after I got used to it''. By facilitating the building of new relationships we have paved the way for something that goes beyond schools singing carols in homes at Christmas.
From Letting in the Light's previous work in residential care homes, we had observed how the sitting area became more animated when visitors arrived, in particular children. There are residents who receive no or very few visits so communication and interaction with the outside world is lost. Many older people become isolated in residential homes as they are thrust into communal living, with people they don’t know or have little in common with apart from age and health condition.
We worked in creative ways to develop opportunities for small groups of children to pay regular visits to the home and to form relationships with the residents based on sharing creative and fun activities. Each session at the home had a theme such as playground games, gardening, and the cinema. Once a theme was established for a session, between the residents and the children, the children created related materials to use, identified objects to take in, learnt a craft skill, a song or a dance, or perhaps edited a slideshow to use during their next activity. The older people also designed activities for the children to take part in when they visited.
Reach Out used hands on creativity mixed with activities developing skills using digital equipment, including photography, sound and utilising iPads as interactive tools for creating and sharing media.
Initially we thought that the children wouldn’t like spending time in the home but were wrong; ''I really enjoyed spending time with everybody and it was lovely being there and listening to their stories''. The children were enthusiastic and excited every time they visited and their visits were eagerly awaited in the home. Feedback from the children highlighted their initial nervousness at the beginning of the project as well as there being some concerns from the home as to how the project would work, but by the end both groups found a connection whether by listening to the man who used to be in the Navy and the girl who was the relative of Captain Smith or by making physical connections when helping each other to play games or cut pieces of paper together.
If we were to secure £50,000 we would create a tailor made programme of activity, which responds to the learning from this project, to offer to further schools and homes in North Staffordshire. This would ensure more young people have an understanding of ageing and isolation, from an early age, and less older people would feel isolated in their daily life.