Gen-Up is an intergenerational project launched by 19 year old volunteer Kristiana Le Mar, and supported by Volunteer Centre Borders. It aims to create understanding and friendship between young and old. Kristiana was recruited via a Roars Not Whispers youth project, which supports a young person in speaking up locally about an issue of social fairness.
Kristiana decided to base her project on dispelling some of the misconceptions held by younger and older people about each other. A series of sessions were held where pupils, during their final school year, and older people in a residential home expressed their perceptions of different generations. As more information was gathered the project adapted and changed to form ‘Gen-Up’ – a befriending project bringing young people and older adults closer together through weekly meetings to participate in joint activities. Gen-Up initially created a profile of each student and participating resident to aid matching one-to-one, but as the project progressed this has changed to having pupils and residents together as a group. If someone is sick or unable to attend no one misses out on befriending in this mode.
Gen-Up has been working with Peebles High School and Dunwhinny Lodge as part of a pilot programme and has completed its first year. Seven S6 pupils (6 girls and 1 boy) visit the care home for one hour every week to participate in activities. Gen-Up has structured activities to ensure pupils and care home residents receive the maximum benefit from the experience.
“It was quite difficult at the start of the project to get the right level of activities that appealed to both younger and older people”, comments Kristiana. “What we found as the project progressed was that sometimes the project participants just want to chat and enjoy each other’s company. So although structured activities are available they are not always necessary.”
Some of the activities include playing games such as bingo, dominos and card games. Others involved a focus on memory, such as remembering a favourite occasion and describing it to the group, or wordplay activities and crosswords. There have also been some special activities, such as the Christmas party. A Christmas cake was made by the residents and pupils and, during Halloween, handmade pumpkins took pride of place at the care home main door display!
The school pupils receive Befriending training over a four week period before the start of their placement and the care home manager attends the final session to explain the varied health status of the residents so they have an idea of what to expect during their placement. As residents may have some degree of dementia the young volunteers can witness incremental decline in specific abilities over the year. Highlighting this during initial training was essential and helped the young volunteers greatly. Indeed, creating comprehensive training packs was time well-spent.
What makes Gen-Up so attractive is that it offers young people an insight into life in very old age and the continuing human need for stimulation and contact. This provides a rich volunteering experience with much to talk about and learn. The residents are delighted to see young people and look forward to their weekly visits. All volunteers have successfully completed 50 hours and have received an MV Award.