New Spin Intergenerational Project


The original impetus for this project came from a pilot group in 2009, in which young people from the Citadel and older people from Pilmeny Development Project came together to make a video about their perceptions of the Leith community entitled ‘persevere’.

We learned from this pilot that while younger and older generations were united in their pride in being from Leith, both often felt marginalised in their own community, and that this feeling was reinforced, for both generations, by negative stereotypes of younger people (‘hoodies’) and older people (‘old fogies’). It was also evident that the experience of working together on the ‘persevere’ project had challenged these stereotypes, and enabled both generations to form a better understanding of each other.

In researching the wider need for intergenerational work, we discovered much evidence which suggested that fear of young people’s anti-social behaviour contributes to the social isolation of older people, particularly in an area of economic deprivation and high density housing such as Leith, where young people without disposable income are more visible as ‘hanging about on the streets’. This research was confirmed by the Edinburgh People’s Survey, which showed ‘anti-social behaviour’ was a consistent concern for adults in Leith.

The main aim of the New Spin project from the outset was to improve understanding and relationships between the generations in Leith. We were influenced in the design of the project by Matt Kaplin’s masterclass presentation to Generations Working Together in September 2010, which the New Spin staff team attended. With Kaplin’s depth of intergenerational engagement scale in mind, we set out to provide a community space where the generations would encounter each other as equal partners, sharing ideas, skills and experiences, rather than one generation being there to ‘teach’ or ‘help’ the other.

Alongside this main aim, we identified specific objectives for each generation. We wanted the project to reduce the social isolation of older people, both directly, by providing weekly activities, and indirectly, by increasing their confidence to go out in their own community. We also wanted the project to increase the confidence of younger people, by enabling them to communicate with adults in a supportive environment and feel listened to and respected.

What did we do?

97 older and younger people have taken part in the past two years of the New Spin project. Ages range from 9 to 90, but the majority of older members are in their 70s or 80s and the majority of younger member are in the 12-15 year old age range.

Although participation in each group is balanced between the generations, the overall number of younger participants is twice as high, because there is a greater ‘turnover’ of younger members, particularly in the Friday Cafe. This is because we recruit young people for the Cafe from our open youth clubs, and there is always a queue of young people wanting to have a turn. We also take referrals from schools or social workers for young people to access New Spin, who would particularly benefit from intergenerational work.

The majority of older members are recruited through Pilmeny Development Project, who are our partners in the Friday Cafe, and the remainder from other agencies working with older people, such as Port of Leith Housing Association, who were our partners for the Old’s Cool group. Many of the older people accessing the project through Pilmeny have been referred through the North East Edinburgh Community Connecting as benefitting from more community based activities.

At the core of the New Spin project since 2010 has been our intergenerational cafe on Friday afternoons, which brings together a regular membership of around 30 older and younger people in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The cafe offers a varied programme of arts and crafts, cooking, quizzes and physical activities, designed to be inclusive for both generations. We also offer trips out to venues such as the Museum of Flight and Ratho canal during the summer holidays, and have even taken a group away on an intergenerational residential.

Alongside the regular Friday cafe, we have delivered a wide range of time limited ‘spin off’ groups bringing an intergenerational dimension to activities from gardening and cooking to furniture restoration and bowling. These groups have also afforded opportunities to develop work with new partners, bringing the benefits of intergenerational work to more groups of older people, such as residents of Port of Leith Housing Association sheltered housing, and spreading the message of intergenerational work to partner agencies, such as Edinburgh Leisure, Out of the Blue arts centre, Greener Leith and Edinburgh Community Food Initiative.

Benefits for the Community

It is more difficult to evaluate outcomes for the community directly. However, as some of the quotes below show, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the improved relationships between the generations extend beyond the New Spin service and into the community. One of our older service users also recounts a time when he fell in the street, and was helped by a group of young people, who recognised him from New Spin.

Benefits for the Younger People

  • A change in their perception of older people
  • An impact on social confidence and skills
  • New and better relationships with older people

With perceptions changing the young people reported:

“You get experience of people of other ages”
“I understand more where older people are coming from.”
“I thought they were scary when I first started New Spin, but I don’t find them scary now”
“I used to run away from my granddad when I was little – thought he was scary”
“We used to think older people’s lives were boring, but they’re not”
“Before this I thought that older people looked down on young people and thought that they were better than them.”

The younger people’s feedback also shows the impact that forming relationships with older people has had on the young people’s own social confidence and skills:

“I take part in more activities now than when I first started”
“I’m happier speaking to older people now, and we speak more often”
“A year ago I wouldn’t speak to older people at all – now I can come in and say ‘hi’. I’ve even had conversations with J and she told me stuff and I told her stuff and it was nice.”
“I didn’t know anyone over 50 before I started doing this – I’m more confident talking to them now and stuff. I’ve met lots of new people and I always say ‘hi!’ to them when I see them in the street”

Benefits for the Older People

  • Benefit from the social stimulus
  • Changed views of the younger generation
  • Reduced feelings of isolation
  • Making new friends

The social stimulus proved beneficial with the following quotes being recorded from the focus groups:

“I’m meeting people I wouldn’t normally have contact with”
“It encourages people to come out of their shells”
“It keeps your mind occupied”
“It stops you feeling isolated”
“Once you’ve been you can get through the day” “The youngsters bring us out of ourselves”
“When I leave I feel better” “It’s good to mix with younger people because otherwise you just go into a downward spiral, get stuck in your own group.”
“It helps you see people, kids as individuals”
“It’s good to learn to understand the young people more”
“It’s nice if you’re outside and some of the young people stop and speak to you”
“I no longer feel like I’m invisible, which is great, they recognise me in the street and treat me as an equal”
“It showed me that there are young people that are approachable and not aggressive, my feeling before was that they were”
“I realise now that kids outside are the same as the ones in here. They no longer seem a threat and need to be avoided”
“The young people are more open now, it gives us a chance to show them that we’re no ‘old fogies’”


Our main method of evaluation is focus groups with older and younger services users, where we ask directly what benefits they have gained from the project, as well as any ideas they have for improvements.

What can we do better

The biggest obstacle noted by the focus groups was the tendency for both generations, at times, to keep to themselves. For example, one older member commented “Some weeks we seem to have a division – we should do more shared activities. I know we do shared activities, but…” Staff recognised that this tendency can be exacerbated as many young people already know each other through the Citadel youth clubs, while many older people are also used to socialising together through other groups at Pilmeny Development Project.

The focus groups identified several ways of overcoming this barrier. All their suggestions were based on strategies we already employ in New Spin, but it was very helpful to hear from service users which they saw working best. Firstly, several younger members suggested “doing more things paired up” or “group work where you need a young person and an older partner”. Secondly, several older members named activities and trips out of the building which were particularly successful at mixing the generations. “When we go on trips and pair up, there’s more one-to-one interaction.” “Trips really help that aspect of it.” “The gardening thing really helps us mix together”. “When we went to (the pool hall) it was great – we all sparked off each other!” Lastly, several older members put forward the idea of a “skills exchange”. “We know things that they know nothing about and they know things that we have nothing about.” “Give the young people responsibility for teaching us about technology – we want to learn!”.

We have already started building on all these suggestions, in order to maximise intergenerational interaction in the remaining months of the New Spin project.

Added extras

Three recent ‘spin off’ groups from the New Spin intergenerational project have produced creative records of their work in different media. Last year’s Herstory project, a collaboration between New Spin and the Citadel’s Young Mums Group, brought young mothers and older women together to explore the social history of women in Leith. The group culminated in a photographic exhibition, which is available to view at the Citadel, but not online.

This year’s Old’s Cool group, a partnership between New Spin and the Citadel’s Futureheads project, worked with a group of S4 pupils, referred by Leith Academy, to train and support them to run intergenerational activities with residents of Jameson Place sheltered housing complex. The young people also made a video about the Old’s Cool group.

Finally, with additional funding from NHS Community Food and Health, an intergenerational group of older men and boys came together this year as part of our ‘Meet n Munch’ project. The group met on Saturday mornings at the Citadel with an experienced chef to plan, cook and review tasty, healthy meals from scratch. The ‘meet n munch’ recipe book, based on the group’s work, is currently only available in paper form, but we could potentially provide a link to a PDF copy through our website.

Funding & next steps

Project is funded for 2 years by the Big Lottery Young Start (ends January 2015).
We are currently applying for funding to develop the Old’s Cool project, based on the successful pilot group delivered as part of New Spin. Through this project, we aim to bring the benefits of intergenerational work to pupils identified as being at risk of disengaging from education in four local schools. We also aim to support each group of pupils to make a record of their work, in a medium of their choice, and ‘showcase’ it to the wider community.

Local Priorities

This project is in line with the priority given to intergenerational work in ‘A City for All Ages’ – Edinburgh’s Plan for Older People’ (2010), and City of Edinburgh Council’s Live Well in Later Life, Reshaping Care for Older People (2011).

Scottish NPF Objectives

This project contributes to the Scottish National Performance Framework (NPF).

HEALTHIER – helping people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.

SAFER & STRONGER – Helping communities to flourish becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life.

Scottish NPF Outcomes

We live longer, healthier lives: Securing longer healthier lives for the people of Scotland will always be a top priority for governments and individuals alike. There are significant challenges which can only be addressed by everyone in Scotland working together, pursuing this goal through improving lifestyles and life circumstances, and a shared ownership of an effective NHS.