Partner Story: The Beth Johnson Foundation
The Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF), established in 1972 is a national charity based in Stoke-on-Trent dedicated to making a future for all ages. BJF wants everyone to enjoy a great later life, which means we as a society need to make changes at a strategic and practical level. Conducting cutting edge research, advising policymakers, and initiating pioneering age-friendly programmes, BJF is at the forefront of making those changes happen (www.bethjohnsonfoundation.org.uk).
Historically, BJF was instrumental in the development of intergenerational practice across the UK, Europe, and Internationally. Recognising the need for a structured approach to promoting and supporting connections between generations and an organisation to coordinate the development of this work, BJF set up the Centre for Intergenerational Practice (CIP) in 2001. For many years CIP acted as a coordinating body for practitioners providing advice/support, training, small grants, and networking for practitioners, organisations, and policymakers who were interested in adding value to their work and addressing social issues with an intergenerational approach (BJF, 2011). BJF’s definition of intergenerational practice is still the most commonly used definition in the field:
‘Intergenerational practice aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities. Intergenerational practice is inclusive and builds on the positive resources that the young and old have to offer each other and those around them’ (Beth Johnson Foundation 2001)
With interest in intergenerational approaches growing BJF (CIP) has supported the development of Generations Working Together formerly the Scottish Centre for IP through the University of Strathclyde and CSV) and in Northern Ireland Linking Generations NI with funding from the Scottish Government and The Atlantic Philanthropies. This was a big step forward in the support for, and recognition of, intergenerational approaches throughout the UK and was the beginning of the social movements we see today through the work of Generations Working Together (GWT) and Linking Generations NI (LGNI). Today, LGNI remains part of BJF benefitting from their experience and international connections and GWT is now a Scottish constituted charity. LGNI works closely with Generations Working Together in Scotland as the only two country-wide ‘intergenerational’ development bodies in the UK and have strong connections with a range of organisations across Europe and internationally which they use to further develop the reach and credibility of intergenerational practice and approaches.
Since the Beth Johnson Foundation was established in 1972, it has focussed on a range of projects, evaluations, and research explicitly addressing the needs of people over the age of 50 years +. Primarily supporting the local communities of Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire, we have subsequently reached out to UK wide initiatives to establish a national profile around age related themes. We pride ourselves on maintaining a key objective of being a catalyst for change, with older people remaining at the very heart of what we do to ensure all of our work remains fit for purpose and evidence based.
How do you define intergenerational activity?
We too use and promote the Beth Johnson Foundation definition across England:
“Intergenerational practice aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities.” Beth Johnson Foundation.
The elevator pitch: How do you describe your organisation to someone completely new to your work?
The Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF) is recognised as being a charity dedicated to ‘making a future for all ages’, with an embedded history around intergenerational activities. We want everyone to enjoy a good later life, and our history is steeped in adult learning, community development, community support, and intergenerational practice as we seek to work together to explore what it means to be age-friendly. Our vision is a future where the voices of ageing communities are clearly heard and where wisdom is recognised and valued through purposeful inclusion and engagement. We will recognise the importance of thinking about ageing in different ways; and will research, influence and promote a ‘whole life course’ approach, acting as a catalyst for new initiatives that build resilience and promote positive ageing - even through life’s challenges. We encourage people of all ages to connect, challenge stereotypes and engage with each other in new ways - for the benefit of all and promoting intergenerational learning.
The hurdles: What are some of the main challenges you face around offering your services?
The BJF is project based, and whilst we have the valued and variable support of an endowment fund, our biggest challenge is around securing financial stability. More dedicated intergenerational funding would enhance the work that we currently do whilst informing future developments.
The rewards: What are some stand-out benefits of intergenerational activity for those you work with?
Whilst it is recognised that ‘...it is simply a fact of life that older people live longer, work longer and contribute longer.... people of all ages need to be able to fully
participate and to fully contribute as equal members of society, safe in the knowledge that they will be treated with dignity and respect and have their basic rights protected. This must be as true for older people as for everyone else’. (A UN convention on the rights of older people: Time for the UK to take the lead. 2015. Age International), it is not always obvious and accessibility to services and opportunities do not always recognise this.
We have managed the Linking Generations Northern Ireland (LGNI) project since 2009. We are fortunate to be able to learn directly from the amazing intergenerational activities creatively developed to support their vision: that intergenerational activities are a catalyst for positive social change. Intergenerational practice promotes better understanding and respect between young and old, creates opportunities to share skills, is inspirational, addresses shared problems and is fun!
Intergenerational themes have been woven throughout much that we do, whether this involved support for older people with dementia; helping older people to become more confident when using social media, or supporting people with musculoskeletal conditions. We recognise the true value of linking people together across the whole age continuum, for mutual benefit and learning. Everyone respects being listened to and being heard; intergenerational activities provide specific opportunities to do just that.
The people: Give one real-world example of a group that has benefited from your intergenerational work in the past 12 months and the changes you have seen for them since taking part.
As part of our dementia advocacy support, members with dementia visited three local schools and organised a number of different initiatives with them. The aims of these visits were to inform understanding around people with dementia; to dispel some of the stereotypes around people with dementia and their abilities, and to engage in fun activities that everyone would remember and reflect upon.
Since Stoke on Trent is in the heart of the pottery industry, at one primary school, children and adults smashed plates and made one large, collaborative ceramic plate. With a local high school, the pupils did some fantastic drawings relating to dementia, some of which remain displayed in our community room at our headquarters. With the third school, we completed pottery work and were subsequently invited to provide dementia friends sessions.
While such sessions offer excellent ways of intergenerational engagement; they are also educative; provide real-life opportunities for people of ages across the spectrum to meet and work together; create lasting legacies (plates and artwork) and share fun times together- regardless of age or conditions.
Top tips: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in an existing intergenerational project or looking to start their own?
Where possible, talk to people who have experience around intergenerational work, visit existing projects, and read examples of good practice through the internet or good journals. Enroll in any training courses that focus on intergenerational activities and principles of good practice. Training and learning alongside like-minded people will enhance your knowledge and skills and boost your confidence in trying out approaches and creative opportunities.
Create feasible and realistic opportunities to bring younger and older people together; plan ahead by finding out what they are keen to do together before planning the details of the project.
How can we find out more about your work and how to support you?