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Intergenerational Reminiscence Project

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Overview

Who: Royal Holloway, University of London in partnership with university departments, Age Exchange, Age Concern Runnymede, a local residential home, the local daycentre in Egham and a number of local schools (both primary and secondary) through liaison with the Royal Holloway’s Widening Participation team

What: Student-led teams facilitating workshops between groups of children and the elderly to encourage communication between the generations in an accessible manner

Why: To widen participation and enhance community ties, through a greater understanding between generations

Where: Workshop sessions were held in the schools, residential home and day centre with the initial campus visit and celebration event at Royal Holloway, University of London.

When: Piloted in January 2010-June 2010, the project plans to continue through the next academic year

Project description

Royal Holloway University of London Reminiscence project

The Intergenerational Reminiscence project aimed to bring together the generations within the community, with emphasis on two-way communication of knowledge and life experience between the older participants and children in a fun and accessible manner. The idea emerged through Royal Holloway’s earlier involvement with reminiscence work at a local residential home and relationship with Age Exchange, (the leading UK charity in the field of reminiscence work).

The student volunteers undertook training with Age Exchange and took the lead in planning, preparing and delivering the series of workshops around specific themes, such as fashion, sports, music, food, leisure and the local area. The project concluded with a celebration event in the historic Founders’ Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway which gave opportunity for all participants to reflect on what was learnt and achieved through the time spent together.

This project aimed to take an innovative step within our volunteering practice in the university, helping to develop stronger partnerships within the university and forge new relationships with external partners. Our team of project workers and student researchers brought together people from Age Concern Runnymede (who provide outreach activities and support to older people enabling them to remain at home), Merlewood residential home and the Good Companions Club, with four local schools, at both primary and secondary levels.

Purpose

  • Help to break down barriers between the generations and forge new perspectives of one another to strengthen ties within the community
  • Provide opportunities for students to develop a range of skills and receive professional training
  • Developing good practice of working in partnership with university departments and the Widening Participation team
  • Establishing long lasting connections within the local community, with both schools and organisations

Results and outcomes

What worked well

Bringing together generations

This project was highly successful in providing the opportunity for the two generations from the local community to interact with one another on a consistent basis, growing to appreciate one another and learn from each other’s life experiences. Overall creating a greater sense of closer knit local communities between the generations, as they do not usually have the time or ability to do this.

"We felt like [the children and elders] really bonded, they interacted and talked like they were friends, so it was awesome!" Student, project worker

The range of partners involved in the project enriched this experience further, with the exchange of knowledge not only between the school pupils and elder participants but further breaking down barriers between the age groups, as the participants involved through Age Concern Runnymede and those in the residential home differed in ages of up to 40 years. Also a particularly successful session brought together the school groups who had participated in the sessions with the elders. This joint session, with a primary school and secondary school within the catchment area, gave the opportunity for the Year Six pupils to visit their future secondary school and mix with the current Year Eight pupils.

Planning and Training

This was a student-led project, with student volunteer teams responsible for liaising with all the partners and clients involved to design and facilitate enjoyable and interesting reminiscence activities. This worked well, enabling students to develop a broad range of project management skills, moreover enhancing their sense of ownership over the project and understanding of reminiscence work.

Working in partnership with Age Exchange was vital, as they were able to offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise regarding reminiscence activities. The student volunteers were provided with vocational training from the outset of the project, ensuring the students were able to fully grasp the complexity of the project and embrace it accordingly due to the sensitive nature of reminiscence work. Students also received ongoing support from the organisation with a support session after their first workshop in a school and then followed up on any issues that were raised after the first session with both younger and older participants.

Secondly, the students have benefitted from local connection to Chertsey museum, who have developed a number of local history boxes around a variety of topics. Using these boxes gave the students inspiration and some structure to the planning of their themed sessions. For example, one of the session themes used by the volunteers was ‘the local area’ during which the older participants were able to share their memories of what changes have occurred over the years in the locality, whilst the younger participants not only heard about their local history but also were told stories and experiences of times gone by.

All the students involved have received recognition of their contributions in the universities’ student volunteering award ceremony in the final weeks of the academic year.

Connecting to the community

The project encouraged perceived barriers between the community and the university to begin to be broken down, and the university to be seen as a resource. With two events held on the campus, including the initial introductions between the school pupils and the elders and the final celebration event. This celebration was held within the Founders’ Gallery in Royal Holloway and provided the opportunity to reflect and feedback on the experience for all involved, parents and senior teachers. The students hosted the event with the school pupils and the older participants giving a range of presentations around the session themes, including plays, poems and showcasing the book of memories they had produced.

This project is continuing this year and establishing further connections, with interest in the project within the universities’ psychology department and the development of the project with another school and care centre.

What didn't work well

Managing a complex set of partnerships enriched the project, though it was challenging at times. During the project our contact within Age Concern resigned. This did cause initial confusion; however we were able to maintain our connection to the organisation, liaising with the Chief Officer of the charity. This indicated the importance of having strong relationships with organisations and not just one key figure. From hindsight, the project could be improved with better communication amongst the project workers. The lessons of this pilot are that it is important to have a clear timescale, to ensure all of the partners are aware of when activities are occurring, in particular, to meet the needs of the schools that have high time pressures upon them.

The reduced number of weekly sessions due to postponed training dates as a result of severe weather conditions meant it was harder to develop the relationship between the generations, and so an increase in the number of weekly sessions would have helped with this.

Length of the sessions was agreed and set around what time was made available by the school and older people involved, yet this seemed to be too short to complete exercises. This would require more time on a weekly basis or better soft skills such as facilitation, planning and time management by project workers.

Resources required

  • Professional training for the student volunteers. This was provided through Age Exchange, through a three day training course
  • Transport facilities- such as the SU minibus, transporting, students, children and the elderly
  • Investment of time in establishing partnerships and ensuring clear and effective communication. This was assisted through the dissemination of a timetable for all those involved
  • Staff time for the project is the equivalent of 1 day per week

Top tips

  1. Being flexible and making contingency plans are vital as things don’t always go smoothly and to plan, particularly when working with a large number of partner organisations
  2. Evaluating activities at the end of each session
  3. Recruiting students to volunteer as project workers via a short application form, to ensure a level of commitment and interest in the project
  4. Ensuring CRB checks are started well in advance of sessions commencing
  5. Planning training dates in advance and communicating these to volunteers as a compulsory part of the project
  6. Communication with younger and older participants by their allocated volunteer team in follow up to initial campus visit trip

Contact

Name: Phil Simcock

Name of organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London

Email: phil.simcock@rhul.ac.uk

Telephone: 01784 414078

Website: http://www.rhul.ac.uk/Volunteering/Intergenerational.html