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Sunderland students are bridging the generation gap

(left to right) Carla Raine, Chelsie Purcell, Coun Graeme Miller and Peggy Rutter.
(left to right) Carla Raine, Chelsie Purcell, Coun Graeme Miller and Peggy Rutter.

Caring Sunderland students are doing their bit to bridge the generation gap.

More than 30 Sunderland College students are now ‘intergenerational advocates’ working alongside older people to offer social engagement, support and advocacy.

Peggy Rutter, a resident at Belle Vue House, with Sunderland College student Chelsie Purcell.

Peggy Rutter, a resident at Belle Vue House, with Sunderland College student Chelsie Purcell.

The level 3 health and care students are working with residents of care homes and extra care housing schemes, where staff have identified those who will benefit the most from the new initiative.

Some students have began their new roles and will be setting up a range of group activities in Bramble Hollow, Hetton, and Willow Brook in Washington.

Five advocates are also volunteering at Belle Vue House care home in Hendon, offering support and companionship to residents on a one-to-one basis.

Christine Scott, manager of Belle Vue House, said: “The experience has been a great success and the vibe in the home has been upbeat and very positive and rewarding.

Unfortunately, social isolation is becoming an increasingly common problem for older people

Carla Raine

“This is a great scheme, and is one that every care setting should embrace with open arms – we would certainly recommend it.”

The students have introduced a broad range of entertainment and activities including biscuit decorating, organising musicals, playing card games and board games, reading books and poetry, and helping residents to create memory boxes.

Carla Raine, health and social care lecturer at Sunderland College, said: “This initiative gives our students a meaningful opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of members of our older community.

“Unfortunately, social isolation is becoming an increasingly common problem for older people and there are many risks associated with this such as mental health issues. So it’s fantastic to see younger members of our society helping to combat the effects of social isolation by working with health and care providers in the region.”

Intergenerational advocates given training by social workers before taking on their new roles. Front, from left: Ellen Thinnesen, Bethan Bell, Moira Thirlwell, Veronica Gillan and Stephenie Shevlin.

Intergenerational advocates given training by social workers before taking on their new roles. Front, from left: Ellen Thinnesen, Bethan Bell, Moira Thirlwell, Veronica Gillan and Stephenie Shevlin.

The initiative has been co-designed in partnership with Sunderland City Council and its adult social care team, with workshops delivered by social workers to enable students to prepare for their new roles.

Coun Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for health, housing and adult services, said: “Involving students in intergenerational work gives the opportunity to bring the outside world into care settings.

“Connecting students to older people will build valuable bridges between these generations - providing support and companionship to older people and giving fantastic life and work experience for students.”

The intergenerational advocate scheme has been launched as part of a government extended work placement pilot that Sunderland College is involved in ahead of the introduction of new T Levels reforms, technical study programmes, in 2020.

The college is focusing on four T Level routes – digital, engineering, health, and catering and hospitality – during the year-long pilot, and is sending regular progress reports to the Government.

Ellen Thinnesen, principal of Sunderland College, added: “The work we are doing now will help to influence the Government’s approach to T Level work placements in the future and we are very proud to be involved in a programme which will result in such positive benefits for students across the country.”