The Whiteley Foundation Blog: Celebrating Intergenerational Week 2021

8th March 2021

As we celebrate National Intergenerational Week, Alison Benzimra Manager of The Whiteley Foundation for Ageing Well, asks whether changing the way we think could help transform society.

More so than ever, we hear the term ‘generation’. As there is a big age divide in how the Covid-19 crisis has been and will be experienced, it is essential that we consider how we use the term to describe a group of people. This is especially the case with policymakers and the media’s ambiguous use of the term, causing confusion and antagonism. The work of the Generation Network, funded by the Wellcome Trust, aims to create clarity and guidance in how we use the term ‘generation’.

‘Generation’ can have two meanings. The first is the family context, which signifies the passing of time; children, parents, grandparents. The second is the social context, which groups people born during a certain time; Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials. However, ‘generation’ can also refer to an age group or cohort (60-65s), a life stage (‘old’ ‘young’) or a period of time (the Windrush Generation). The term is used so interchangeably, we can often be quick to label with little consideration of social identities.

Generations are made up of individuals, who have diverse outlooks and experiences. Within generational categories, there may be intersections with other identities. For example, Jim Glennon of Opening Doors, highlighted that many Baby Boomers belonging to the LGBTQI+ community, experienced their youth in a time of marginalisation. By generalising, we reinforce stereotypes in the UK’s highly diverse population.

Many organisations are doing work to not only understand the different experiences of generations but also to bring different generations together. The Resolution Foundation has recently published an Intergenerational Audit for the UK. The audit focuses on the economic consequences and the health and social influence  of Covid-19 on intergenerational inequality. The pandemic has had a direct impact on the mortality of those over 55 but there have also been striking wellbeing effects on young workers as well as older people.

The pandemic has also had a dire impact on the ability of generations to engage with one another.  Many intergenerational projects relied heavily on face-to-face engagement and were set in group contexts. As many of these projects involved older people in care settings, the need to stop the spread of the virus and protect people resulted in these projects coming to an immediate end. Generations Working Together remains committed to making Scotland the first intergenerational nation, as they believe that intergenerational work has a unique and significant contribution to make to the recovery process.

National Intergenerational Week gives us the opportunity to highlight the wide-ranging benefits of this type of engagement. Over the years The Whiteley Homes Trust has developed many positive relationships with our local schools, colleges and universities. Although during the pandemic face-to-face visits have not been possible, contact between local young people and our residents has continued to thrive. For example in December, the Trust received dozens of hand-written cards and gifts for our residents donated by children from Hoe Valley School in Woking who were supporting the Times Educational Supplement’s (TES) Classrooms to Care Homes Campaign which aims to strengthen ties between schools and care homes.

In her interview with the TES about the campaign, part of which was later aired on BBC Radio Five Live, Trust CEO Rachel Hill said: “This initiative is both important and timely. Young people help to bring much joy and fun to a care home and older people can be wonderful role models for them too. But these relationships are especially vital now.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on those living in care – being unable to see family and friends in person for so many months. Many children will also be missing their grandparents and older people will have desperately missed their grandchildren, so it’s wonderful for our residents to know someone cares and is thinking of them.”

Positive intergenerational engagement can have a deep and lasting influence on perceptions and behaviour. A study in Belgium showed that children who have a positive experience of their grandparents are less likely to have biased views of older people. Ageism, the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of age is the most prolific form of discrimination; impacting on us from childhood to old age.

The segregation of ‘generations’ is enforced in our formative years at school, continued throughout our working and social lives and is reinforced in our later years.  Generations United reports that two in three Americans would like to spend more time with people outside their age group and that 92% of Americans believe that intergenerational activities can help alleviate loneliness.

Between the ‘book-end generations’ of toddlers and the very old, lies a diversity of adjacent and intermediate generations who would benefit from friendship, communication and collaboration. The Cares Family is an organisation helping people to find connection and community in a disconnected age. Their programmes help older and younger neighbours to reduce loneliness together, so they can feel part of a changing world rather than left behind by it.

The launch of the first UN Global Report on Ageism comes at an opportune time. The report provides evidence on a topic which has becoming increasingly relevant as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Health Organisation is hosting a virtual conversation on March 18th 2021 to launch the report. This interactive event will help to challenge how we think, feel and act towards age and ageing. Your experience and opinion are valuable, and this virtual conversation provides you with an opportunity to have your say. Help spread the word about ageism by using and following the hashtag #AWorld4AllAges.

Main image credit: ‘Role Reversal’ by Graham Marsden | Photocrowd photo contests

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