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Watch as pupils do their bit to stop social isolation for the elderly and break down generational barriers

Children from Washington Academy have been breaking down inter-generational barriers as part of a project to help elderly people suffering social isolation.

By Neil Fatkin
Monday, 20th June 2022, 4:55 am

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Pupils launched the Combating Loneliness project two-years-ago but due to Covid restrictions could only offer virtual support.

With restrictions over, the school contacted Age UK Sunderland to invite some elderly people along to a gathering with pupils at Beamish Museum.

The school’s Community Engagement Officer, Nicola Williamson, said: “We applied for funding for the project and after contacting Age UK we arranged for them to meet with the children at Orchard Cottage, a 1940s farmhouse at Beamish Museum.”

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Lead Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the school, Lyndsey Watson, added: “Many older people live alone and we wanted to do something to support them.

"Using Beamish was ideal as there were lots of items, including a memory box, to get the students and elderly people talking abut what life was like. They were telling pupils about how they and there parents used to use the items when they were children.

“The project also really helped children to develop their communication skills.”

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Washington Academy children at Beamish Museum with guests from Age UK Sunderland.

The children met with five Age UK guests; Margaret Eden,90, Winnifred Kent, 93, Judith Barry, 77, Peter Mason ,78, and Brian Emery, 84.

A key aim of the project was also to break down any barriers or stigma which may exist between the demographic divide.

Lyndsey added: “A number of the elderly people were quite apprehensive as there can be a real worry from some older people about how teenagers are perceived. Both the children and guests all got along and absolutely loved it and have already been asking when they can do it again.

"It’s massively important to bridge that generational gap and help the elderly feel less vulnerable when around teenagers. Hopefully it will have helped restore their faith in young people.”

Children and some of the older people looking at the memory box in Orchard Cottage at Beamish Museum.

Year 8 pupil Amelia Short, 12, said: “Winnifred didn’t speak very much at the start as she seemed a bit wary of young people – possibly from experiences she may have had in the past. Hopefully this has broken-down barriers so older people realise not all teenagers are bad.

The project has also helped break down barriers as to how young people may see older generations.

Faye Henderson, 13, said: “I was worried older people may have views which were dated and different to my generation, but I really enjoyed talking to them and finding out what life used to be like.

Looking at old photographs of what life used to be like.

"It was interesting talking to Peter about how as a child he used to travel on his own from Dublin to the South of England to go to boarding school.”

Over tea and toast, toasted on an open fire, the group discussed getting evacuated during the war, being at school, and the games children used to play, along with dancing to music from the 40s and 50s.

Ruby Triplow, 12, said: “I really enjoyed hearing their stories.”

Age UK Sunderland representative, Melanie Whing said: “The day turned out to be such a special occasion for our members and it was lovely to witness them enjoying themselves interacting with the students.

"They were fascinated with each other’s stories as they sat talking about school days, proms, dances and how things have changed.”

The school plans to host the group for an afternoon tea.

Washington Academy Special Educational Needs Coordinator Lyndsey Watson (left) alongside pupils Ruby Triplow, Faye Henderson, Amelia Short, Chris Jago and Community Engagement Officer Nicola Williamson.