Partner Story: Linking Generations Northern Ireland

Linking Generations Northern Ireland (LGNI) has been supporting communities to bring different generations together since 2009. LGNI is part of the Beth Johnson Foundation England who previously coordinated the UK Centre for Intergenerational Practice.

As the only organisation solely focusing on the development and promotion of intergenerational approaches in Northern Ireland, they have picked up many lessons along the way. Here Manager, Vicki Titterington shares some of those lessons.

How do you define intergenerational activity?

LGNI use the Beth Johnson Foundation definition of intergenerational practice, aiming to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities.

The elevator pitch: How do you describe your organisation to someone completely new to your work?

LGNI inspires and supports the growth of an age-friendly society through connecting older and younger people and is the nationally recognised centre of excellence supporting the development and integration of intergenerational work across Northern Ireland. Our mission is to develop, expand and improve intergenerational practice.

LGNI coordinates a country-wide community of practice through our 11 local intergenerational networks and membership of over 530 people, you can join by signing up here. We host regular network meetings to connect people and use our expertise to build intergenerational capacity within communities and organisations through the delivery of tailor-made projects, training programmes and the provision of advice and support. We also use our evidence to influence policymakers to recognise and support intergenerational approaches as a catalyst for social change. LGNI empowers people to implement their own intergenerational solutions in the communities they live and work in.

Our vision is that Northern Ireland will be a place where all generations are respected, understood, connected, and engaged together in their communities. To achieve this LGNI offers opportunities to bring generations together in lots of different places for lots of different reasons.

The hurdles: What are some of the main challenges you face around offering your services

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on every aspect of life as we know it and particularly contact between generations in families and communities. LGNI have faced challenges in the delivery of their work due to not being able to bring people together physically and although we have been innovative in our approaches to keeping people connected we miss face to face. The vaccination programme brings hope for better days in the near future however intergenerational work will be a fundamental approach in repairing the fractures and separation caused between generations as a result of the pandemic.

Funding for LGNI’s core work and the salaries of our staff as a support and infrastructure organisation is always a challenge pre Covid and maybe even more so post Covid. Although our work is not directly on the frontline we support frontline workers to add value and have a bigger impact with an intergenerational approach.

The rewards: What are some stand-out benefits of intergenerational activity for those you work with?

  • Benefits for participants involved – health & well-being, confidence & self-esteem, promotes understanding, sense of belonging and community inclusion, challenges negative stereotypes, improves feelings of safety, new skills. E.g. arts, digital, and much more.
  • Benefits for practitioners/organisations – adds value to existing work, better use of resources, achieves multiple outcomes, forges new partnerships/connections.
  • Benefits at a policy level – Evidenced based intergenerational approaches contribute to and are recognised in central and local government priorities, plans and strategies. In Northern Ireland at a local level intergenerational benefits are reported back via council community plans, policing and community safety plans, age friendly plans. Intergenerational activity is also reported back in school development plans and care inspections. At the higher level, intergenerational work features in the NI Health Strategy, Community Safety strategy, Good Relations Strategy, Active Ageing Strategy and has links to the curriculum etc.

The people: Give one real-world example of a group that have benefited from your intergenerational work in the past 12 months and the changes you have seen for them since taking part.

In response to Covid-19 LGNI was delighted to partner with Alpha Housing and Volunteer Now to support the pilot of our first Intergenerational Pen Pal scheme. Due to Covid-19 restrictions Alpha Housing tenants have been unable to meet in common areas and see friends or family. As so many people are being kept apart, this groundbreaking Pen Pal project will help to combat social isolation and loneliness by connecting those living in the Alpha Housing Scheme with LGNI Volunteer Pen Pals.

To date, we have matched 28 Pen Pals ranging from 16-70 years old who will write to each other exchanging letters, postcards, and small gifts, we hope that many long-term friendships are created as a result.

We have been overwhelmed by the interest in becoming a Volunteer Pen Pal and hope that this will be the first of many Intergenerational Pen Pal schemes. We are so excited to be leading the way using innovative ideas to keep people connected!

“The day I received the reply I had just heard some bad news so receiving the letter, especially the wee card he sent with it just put the biggest smile on my face. He sounds a lovely gentleman who isn’t much older than my dad so it made me think if that was my dad I am sure he would love to receive letters and have someone to talk to…it makes me feel good to be part of this initiative and I hope I can continue to correspond with my Pen Pal for as long as he would like”. Volunteer

Top tips: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in an existing intergenerational project or looking to start their own?

Start by asking, ‘why am I doing this?’ Intergenerational practice is an approach that should have clearly defined outcomes and be grounded in community need and should be developed in partnership with the people in the communities that it is for. We suggest the following:

Follow the principles of Intergenerational Practice

  • Planning is key
  • Always prepare age groups for meeting up
  • Support yourself by undertaking intergenerational training
  • Think evaluation, social impact, and sustainability

How can we find out more about your work and how to support you?

Visit our website and sign up to our networks, like us and follow us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or check out our Youtube channel.

We are always looking for funding to support our staff to continue to support communities and organisations to develop their own intergenerational work.