Intergenerational care – Channel 4’s Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds says: ‘Improving older people’s lives is child’s play’

The Cote Lane social experiment

Eleven residents from the Cote Lane Retirement Village in Bristol are taking part in a groundbreaking social experiment for television’s Channel 4.

The community which is run by the St Monica Trust, comprises 180 independent apartments, 75-bed nursing care home, 12-bed dementia care home and a specialist dementia care nursing unit. Residents are accommodated alongside the beautiful parkland of Durdham Downs. They have a restaurant, health spa and fitness centre, and can rent, lease or purchase (or part-purchase) a property on the site.

The residents shared daily activities with ten four-year olds from local Bristol pre-schools, and the six-week programme was filmed as part of a two-part programme broadcast in August 2017.

The aim of the experiment was to help improve the lives of the older volunteers. The group’s activities were designed by three experts: a physiotherapist together with a gerontologist and geriatrician. The older generation’s physical and mental progress was monitored throughout.

Parents agreed that the children enjoyed the experience, despite the initial nervousness on both sides. The success of the programme is in no doubt, and residents felt able to speak openly about their struggles with depression, mobility problems and loneliness.

One resident, who initially was reluctant to be involved, was seen playing ‘dead lions’ with the children – despite having an artificial leg and being 88 years of age. Another resident who had battled with depression was seen laughing with delight as she hit a suspended Pinata and was rewarded with a shower of sweets.

Apples and Honey at Nightingale House

Meanwhile, in Clapham, London, a new 30-place children’s nursery will open in September 2017 in the grounds of 200-place residential care home, Nightingale House. Residents and children will eat together and share inclusive activities, including cooking, exercise, music, arts and crafts. Although the Apples and Honey nursery is new, it is the second opened by its principal. Children from the original nursery have visited the care home twice a term for fifteen years and some have ‘adopted’ residents as grandparents.

The future?

As the population of ‘older people’ increases, addressing our future housing and care needs is a problem that worries many. Shelter estimates that one in three of us will be aged 55 and over by 2030 and there are currently 14.7 million ‘older people’ living in 7.3 million ‘older households’.

Only a small proportion of the housing market is available as specialist housing, providing some support for residents, although in the future the supply would need to grow significantly just to satisfy the needs of older households in the next twenty years.

Most older people will continue to live active, independent lives in private sector housing. They are more than twice as likely as the total population to own their home outright and most continue to live in homes that are ‘under occupied’ (have at least two spare bedrooms). They are also more likely to live in ‘non-decent homes’, with problems including energy inefficiency, damp, infestation of insects and rodents, or in serious disrepair.

It’s an experiment that has succeeded in the US for several years. Perhaps the success of these schemes in Bristol and Clapham will encourage more ‘intergenerational care’ opportunities in the UK – and enable the release of more property onto the housing market.