How to turn your intergenerational project into a digital one

The 8th – 14th March 2021, marked the second National Intergenerational Week which inspired many of us to reconnect the generations and to plan future projects. As we gradually ease out of lockdown and the restrictions reduce we still need to carefully consider how we deliver intergenerational work.

Over the past year, there are individuals and organisations who have managed to adapt how they keep people of different generations and their communities connected. The Citadel Youth Centre and Pilmeny Development Project (PDP) are two such organisations who have delivered intergenerational practice, in Leith Edinburgh since 2009. One of their initiatives, New Spin developed their online delivery from a necessity to enable the intergenerational connections to continue and flourish. Here is their story.

Making the Digital Switch

Prior to Covid-19, a typical New Spin session would see 30 young and older people meet, alongside staff and volunteers, physically for an afternoon of games, team activities, conversation, food, and fun. However, the current health crisis has transformed New Spin.

The Digital Divide can impact people of all ages and now more than ever there is a need for digital skills. Adapting intergenerational practice within New Spin to an online space to address this need was challenging. The project faced the reality of digital exclusion and had to address the digital divide being experienced by local young and socially isolated older people in Leith. New Spin wanted to enable them to stay connected during the Coronavirus pandemic and continue to build positive, meaningful relationships across the generations. Through perseverance, some trial and error, and a passion to continue supporting our participants of all ages, intergenerational digital innovation has been achieved.
Ryan shared, that in the initial digital sessions, things looked bleak, as only one young and older person took part on Facebook video. But they were inspired by the words of Henry Ford to keep going “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.

Supporting our older participants to get online – through the provision of IT equipment for those who were digitally excluded and switching to Zoom, enabled them to attract more participants, particularly young people. The breakout room functionality of Zoom also provided them with greater flexibility in the delivery of weekly sessions. Ten young and older participants now meaningfully engage online.

The project, has received feedback from participants, about what they enjoyed most about ‘digital’ New Spin, here are some of their views:

‘Getting to mix with the older generation’

‘Getting to have a laugh with everyone’

‘That it is possible to stay in touch during lock down’

‘Generations can work together!’

Enthused and encouraged by the success of Digital New Spin, Citadel Youth Centre and Pilmeny Development Project organisers want to share their top tips for delivering digital intergenerational work:

Build Positive Relationships

Relationships are the key. In a physical setting, creating safe spaces to foster meaningful relationships between young and older people is a relatively straightforward task. Moving into online spaces we can overcomplicate the work we are trying to achieve. It is easy to become preoccupied with technology, adding the latest application into your session plan, only to forget the reason why you are delivering your work in the first place.

TIP: Digital technologies have their place, but without relationships, you won’t have a successful digital intergenerational project. Place building positive relationships, at the forefront and you will have a solid foundation in which both generations can digitally innovate together.

Include the Five Senses

Whether meeting with family and friends or taking part in an engaging webinar, connecting online has the potential to be a fantastic experience. However, online connections also have the potential to be energy-sapping and detached. In order to make our digital New Spin sessions as connective as possible, we create weekly activity packs that draw on the 5 senses. Different smells, materials, textures, and tastes have all been explored to make our sessions as sensory as possible.

Example activities include chopstick challenges, celebrating Chinese New Year to build motor skills, healthy snacks to stimulate taste buds, and the smell of daffodils during St David’s Day festivities.

TIP: Build better digital connections by ensuring you capture the 5 senses in each session.

Time makes all the difference

Lockdown for all of us has often led to a distortion of time. Whether you feel the time has gone slowly or quickly, it’s important to reflect on the amount of time you need, to deliver your digital intergenerational activities. Although our digital New Spin sessions only run for 45 minutes, the creativity and time needed to deliver weekly activity packs can quickly eat into your working week. Moreover, communicating with your participants each week to ensure they are confident accessing digital activities, is an essential yet additional time restraint that must be considered.

TIP: Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take you to plan and organise successful digital intergenerational activities. This is particularly the case if you are organising the home delivery of activity packs, IT support, and resources.

For further information please contact:

Ryan Mckay Citadel Youth Centre
Anne Munro Pilmeny Development Project