To be frank, social distancing has not been good news for intergenerational mixing.
Back in early spring 2020, thousands of care homes and older people’s housing with care schemes were linking with schools and nurseries and other young people in their community. They were also getting ready to celebrate the first national Intergenerational Week at the end of March.
Then came coronavirus and lockdown, which put an end to many activities bringing the generations together. The response quite rightly has been to safeguard the oldest and youngest in our care.
There has also been an outbreak of creativity since March. As part of the wider growth in mutual aid and volunteering during the crisis, we have seen new imaginative ways to maintain contact between young and older people.
These have ranged from writing letters and poems and celebrating special occasions to using new technology and apps to communicate. This creativity and determination have been amazing, bringing joy and togetherness in the face of the virus and isolation.
While social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future, we need to re-build real social connection and meaningful relationships between young and old. Thereby creating a new world where intergenerational care is about more than technology and which builds on the drive in recent months to bring people together and build stronger communities with humanity.
Here are ten building blocks for making this new world happen in this decade, starting locally and growing nationally:
1. Reminding everyone of why intergenerational interaction is important and the mutual benefits for young and old – from improving health, care and quality of life to boosting learning and communication through purposeful activities to tackling loneliness and ageism while raising awareness of the issues facing each generation.
2. Sustaining mutual aid – the crisis has revealed a huge public desire to support more isolated people in our communities. We must tap into this reservoir of good will to link with those in care and develop technology that all ages can use to maintain relationships.
3. Preparing for Care Home Open Day in June 2021 – after lockdown, every day should be a care home open day, not just once a year. The British public has been shocked by the scale of deaths in care homes during the crisis and this provides an opportunity to engage local communities.
4. Becoming care home FaNs – My Home Life is linking schools and young people with their local care homes through its intergenerational linking project. They have a great range of resources that can be used in lockdown and beyond.
5. Recruiting and training the next generation of care workers – linking with young people in schools and other youth organisations offers a chance to interest them in working in care and influencing their peers about the value of care work through an intergenerational curriculum.
6. Living together in intergenerational housing – the twin crises of loneliness and lack of affordable housing affecting younger and older generations will encourage people to look at new ways of living together such as Homeshare, that make better use of existing housing, as well as new developments in emptying high streets and town centres.
7. Creating technology that works for all ages – the digital divide has been exposed by the coronavirus crisis. The challenge to tech developers is making new apps age friendly, while enabling older people to give back through for example online mentoring of younger people.
8. Introducing Autumn for All Ages – after a spring and summer of lockdown, everyone is looking for ways to re-connect this autumn. Using all the imagination already displayed this year and much more, we can make a real impact for all generations.
9. Acting nationally – a new government Department of Connection could provide the framework and support for intergenerational action including a new bank holiday as a national day of unity.
10. Legislating for the long term – too often policy is short-sighted and doesn’t consider its intergenerational impact. We urgently need reform of social care that works for all ages, alongside reform of housing, taxation and other big issues.
If we achieve all the above, it would be a great legacy of 2020 and the virus.