How three generations came together during lockdown
Posted by Alex Smith on 27th July 2020
By Fiona Bevans
This year, The Cares Family celebrates its ninth anniversary – nine wonderful years of bringing together older and younger neighbours through Social Clubs, Love Your Neighbour and Outreach programmes. In this difficult year, 2020, we’ve also set about extending that model by introducing a new 3G project – brand new work bringing together new parents, their young children (0-5 years) and older neighbours (over 65 years) to share time, laughter and new experiences and to form new connections that can last.
We started developing the project in January – building relationships with the local councils in Haringey and Waltham Forest, where we first planned the work to take place, as well as local businesses and community organisations, and devising the social clubs content. By February, we had a clear idea of how the next six months would pan out, had discovered some wonderful venues such as Broadwater Children’s Centre, Greenleaf Baptist Church, Homemade Community Cafe and Walthamstow Wetlands, and locked down the dates of the clubs.
When planning events, there’s often a period where you think you have so much time and then you realise that the event is a couple of days away and nerves set in. Did we choose the right location? Will anyone show up? Will anyone actually enjoy it?
Luckily, people did show up and our two February pilots were lovely. Children, parents and older neighbours alike enjoyed the timeless children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and built a social club around it involving bug games, an enormous home-made caterpillar, and some delicious food. It was clear that parents appreciated connecting with older neighbours, while older neighbours enjoyed engaging with the children.
Irena lives close to our club in Walthamstow and was curious about getting involved, though felt at first that she wasn’t much good with little ones. When she read the story aloud, everyone loved it. Wendy, a retired primary school teacher, said being with the families took her back to her teaching days and reminded her just how happy she was to have had a career that she enjoyed so much. Everyone was looking forward to the events we had lined up in March. It was working!
Then, just a week after our second club, our plans – like so many others all around the world – came to a sudden halt.
With the escalation of the Covid-19 crisis, The Cares Family suspended face-to-face programmes because the health of our neighbours is our first priority. But knowing that this would be a time of deep social isolation for everyone, we pivoted quickly and planned new ways to connect people in our communities across three generations.
We decided to run a social club on Zoom every Friday for the 18 people who’d come to our first two clubs, and to try our best to get others involved too. We helped 90-year-old Ed to download Zoom which, with trial and error, he did and now joins his new friends online every week. Several of the parents we met through outreach tuned in too. Together, with an age gap of nearly 90 years, neighbours were getting to know one another – even relying on one another. We hosted social clubs including Desert Island Discs, a rainbow party where everyone came dressed in different colours, puppet shows with Little Angel Theatre, Singalong sessions with Mrs H., and music therapy with Claire.
But, as lockdown continued, we also decided to do more. For those without access to the internet we’ve offered a dial in option. 73-year-old Tony can't get online, but he loves calling in to the weekly clubs. Even though he can’t see what is going on, he enjoys the conversation and connecting with others on the call.
We’ve also delivered activity packs to neighbours in Haringey and Waltham Forest, with arts and crafts and accessories, and #AloneTogether activity packs full of distractions and connections – for older people, new parents and their kids. We’ve shared messages of hope across the generations – in the form of drawings and paintings delivered by post, and video and on social media and at the clubs.
And we’ve encouraged neighbours to create a shared lockdown journal – to record their thoughts and feelings during this time, to take a little headspace to reflect, or to let out some frustrations with a crayon. Midwife Rosemary's beautiful entry described how she missed seeing her daughter and grandson, but stated how grateful she was to be in good health and able to spend time in her garden. In times of challenge and change, longing and loneliness, it’s wonderful to reflect on all the things we can be grateful for.
We still have a few months left to go on our 3G project. We hope that, by the end of the year, people who have forged relationships in adversity will be able to come together face-to-face. Those relationships, and this project, have been forged amid some of life’s great challenges. Adjustments and adaptations are inevitable – and part of the learning process.
So, too, is the timeless meaning of people being with people.
90-year-old Ed told us that these past months have been the first time in over a year, since he lost his wife, that he has started to not feel lonely. The club gives him something to look forward to each week. He’s also been using Zoom to connect with his 9-year-old grandson, Alfie, on a regular basis. On his 90th birthday, Ed insisted that he come to the social club before heading out for a socially distanced party with his family to celebrate. That’s meaning.
70-year-old Jill lives in sheltered housing. In regular times, once a week, children from the local nursery would pop over to spend an hour with their older neighbours. Lockdown meant lockout – and Jill quickly started to miss her face-to-face interactions with children. Coming to the Zoom clubs with ‘the little ones’ was an important substitute in a difficult time. That's meaning, too.
And while we still worry that no-one’s going to show up for sessions – even online – we now have a good group of core attendees that enjoy one another’s company and friendship and look forward to seeing their new friends. Those friends have celebrated birthdays, created musical soundscapes, listened to a lot of Michael Buble (Ed’s favourite) and shared advice – from generation to generation – about raising children.
It’s that listening, and those shared stories and experiences, that build connection. An it’s that connection that – whether near or far physically – can last a lifetime.