Overcoming age divisions through an intergenerational approach to care

Lucie Mitchell investigates initiatives which aim to boost multigenerational activity, from intergenerational nurseries to multigenerational workforces.

Three generations smiling to camera


Britain is both an ageing and age-segregated nation. In addition to this, many working parents are finding themselves in a position where they are caring for their children as well as an elderly relative at the same time – the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ – which brings its own challenges too.

As a result, initiatives are being developed to help boost multigenerational activity and bridge the age gap. This kind of intergenerational practice is becoming more commonplace in the care sector. For instance, Apples and Honey Nightingale is the UK’s first intergenerational nursery, where children and elderly residents can participate in daily activities together as the nursery shares the same site as the care home.

What is intergenerational practice?

Essentially, intergenerational practice is about uniting people of all ages, for the benefit of everyone involved. The most common definition is by the Beth Johnson Foundation (2009): “Intergenerational practice aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between different generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities. Intergenerational practice is inclusive, building on the positive resources that the younger and older generations have to offer each other and those around them.”

Lorraine George, learning and development officer at Generations Working Together (GWT), which supports intergenerational work across Scotland, says that intergenerational practice can take many forms.

“Whilst it may look different within education than when carried out in youth work, or adult social care, intergenerational practice essentially links together a range of processes that build positive relationships between generations, bringing mutual benefits to all involved,” she remarks.

Intergenerational training

Apples and Honey Nightingale has launched a set of accredited qualifications in intergenerational care and education, designed to support people who are interested in becoming intergenerational practitioners across early years, education, health and social care settings.

“Most care professionals and early years practitioners are not trained in intergenerational (IG) practice, which is a great pity as it means that many programmes are not of a high standard, are not impactful and are not relational,” comments Judith Ish-Horowicz MBE, co- founder and director of Apples and Honey Nightingale. “That is why I set up the Apples and Honey Nightingale Education and Training Centre, which is an NCFE/CACHE registered training centre with a focus on delivering IG training. There are other providers who offer half day and one-day introductory courses, but the reality is that, without both the care sector and the education sector prioritising IG training, the take up for these courses will be limited.”

Intergenerational training in England is less joined up and harder to source than in Scotland, adds George, where GWT provides intergenerational training courses of various lengths, funded by the Scottish government.

“GWT offers a variety of intergenerational training sessions, including an eight-week course aimed at anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of intergenerational work, its purpose, impact and practical application to enable them to apply this within their own work,” she says.

What skills do intergenerational practitioners need?

Staff interested in intergenerational work will need a variety of skills, depending on the setting in which they are working.

“If you are a care worker, you will need to understand the needs of the children you will be working with, as well as an understanding of the statutory education guidance for the age group you will be partnering,” advises Ish-Horowicz. “If you are coming from the education side, you will need empathy, patience and skill in validating and managing your volunteers. You will need to have a grounding in health and safety, preparing risk assessments and safeguarding issues. You must know how to plan, deliver and evaluate each session. You must be able to work in partnership with others, to be flexible and responsive.”

With more practitioners trained in intergenerational work, it is hoped that it will help to improve working practices in the care sector.

“Intergenerational programmes not only impact positively upon the participants but also upon the staff and the working environment,” remarks George. “If the residential adults are happier through generational contact, then they are easier to support, which in turn makes staff happier as their working day is less stressful. Documented evidence shows that intergenerational shared sites – care homes with nurseries or classrooms – not only attract staff but also retain them. Having children onsite, and intergenerational work embedded into the daily routines, makes a positive difference to everyone who lives or works there.

Staff are attracted by an additional career pathway, as well as feeling that they are making a difference in the community.”

A multigenerational workforce

It’s not just the care sector that can benefit from intergenerational practice. By moving to a more multigenerational workforce in general, organisations can take steps to overcome age divisions in the workforce.

“Many employers will have staff whose ages might span from 18 to 80 years old,” says Stephen Burke, director at United for All Ages. “They need to be able to attract older and younger workers in a tight labour market. They also need to ensure that all ages can work well together. Intergenerational mentoring and coaching can help exchange of skills, knowledge and understanding. Bringing different ages together can also reduce ageism by increasing mutual understanding and shared interests and concerns.”

Luke Price, senior research and policy manager for work at the Centre for Ageing Better, adds that businesses with a multigenerational workforce have been found to be more innovative than those without. “It pays to create and maintain a rich and age-diverse working environment. Employers can grow a multigenerational workforce by taking steps to foster intergenerational work relationships between staff members,” he says.

Effective intergenerational work should provide opportunities to challenge misconceptions about age, concludes George. She says: “Providing opportunities for older and younger generations to build relationships helps to break down barriers between generations, as people get to know each other as individuals rather than as stereotypes.”

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