It all started when my colleague Amanda and I were planning activities in our childminding setting to help teach the children in our care about people in our community.
We thought that a visit to a residential care home for the elderly would be lovely for the residents and would help teach the children, through interaction, about elderly people in our community.
I made a phone call to Home Meadow, a residential care home for the elderly in Toft, Cambridgeshire, to see if a visit would be possible. The manager was very enthusiastic and instantly keen for us to visit. He knew the residents, some with early dementia, would benefit hugely from the experience. Our first visit was soon organised.
We first went along at Christmas time with a card for the residents and some decorations that the children had made for the home's Christmas tree. Our first visit was so successful, and enjoyable for both the children and the residents, that regular visits were arranged.
After a year of visiting, the manager asked if we would like to make regular use of a bright and airy room within the home, with a small kitchen area and an enclosed outdoor space. After some thought and parent feedback we happily agreed and decided to base ourselves at the home one day a week. Our 'Little Owls' project was under way.
We posted on Facebook to ask for donations of toys and games to store at the home for the children to play with and were inundated with kind offers. We collected up the toys, books and games and set about turning the room into a fun filled space for the children to play in.
We spend the day amongst the residents, many of whom like to sit with us around the table and take part in our planned craft activities. We also join in with their movement to music classes. On our day they have now evolved into a slightly noisier affair, with a parachute, balloons, feathers and pompoms! The children happily interact with the residents and the joy on the faces of the old and young is heartwarming.
Several of the children we care for have formed bonds with residents. They look forward to seeing them each week and they talk about them to their families when at home. Parents of the children have been really supportive and enthusiastic about this venture and agree that it is beneficial to all involved. The children are learning respect, patience and tolerance and look beyond the age of their 'playmates'.
One of the residents’ family members wrote saying; "My father has restricted mobility due to advancing Alzheimer's and a stroke. He has to have help to do almost everything in his day to day life now, although he was very active when he was well. However when the children visit, his whole demeanour changes. He becomes more animated, laughing and smiling, and joins in with their games to the best of his ability. After the visits, my Dad is tired, a good sort of tired that comes from being active. The children bring life and energy into his life and I am very grateful to the home for facilitating the visits, the childminders for making the effort to visit, and the parents giving their permission for their children to come along.’
Since starting our project, it's picked up some media interest. We were broadcast on BBC Look East with a short clip posted to the Look East Facebook page. We have also taken part in two radio interviews, the first being BBC radio Cambridgeshire, and then 'The Wireless' radio station with Sir Martyn Lewis.
Both radio interviews focused on the positive intergenerational project, 'Little Owls' has become. Everyone at the home, in addition to myself and Amanda, were pleased to receive such high praise from the stations, as well as praise from Robbie Lane, of the Alzheimer's Society, who was invited to speak on the show about the project, describing our project as "innovative".
BBC radio Cambridgeshire's presenter Dotty Macleod said that hearing about the project "made me smile so much" With positive feedback too from 'The Wireless' radio station. Sir Martyn Lewis thought it was "such a heart-warming story" and he is keen to "share the information as far and wide as possible."
We are looking forward to the coming months with our new found friends, planning day trips, planting fruit and vegetables, and setting up our outside play space.
We knew that this would be a positive experience for all involved, but didn't realise that we are such a minority. We are so proud of our project and so very grateful that we have been made to feel like part of a big family at Home Meadow.
This is a wonderful project to be involved in. Beneficial to both the children and the residents and so rewarding. We would recommend to anyone wanting to do the same thing to just go for it! Call your nearest care home and suggest it.