This is part of a series of conversations with member organisations of the Connection Coalition.
InCommon is a charity that brings generations together, connecting groups of young people with their older neighbours in retirement homes. They partner with schools, youth groups and housing associations to run intergenerational workshops that bring people of different ages together in meaningful ways so that they can learn from each other and build friendships.
Sarena tells us about InCommon, what really works to connect across generations, how she’d love to connect with other network members, and InCommon’s imminent first ever fundraising campaign – the Big Give Christmas Challenge.
What do you love most about your work and what are you most proud of?
I love going to our intergenerational sessions – the pure magic that’s created when you bring a group of young people together with their older neighbours… honestly, it gives me endless joy. We normally do a check-in with our participants at the start. I like to ask what colour people are feeling. One child came up to me after a session and told me that he was feeling golden after having so much fun spending time with the older residents – that’s exactly how I feel each time too! I’m really lucky in my role as Programme and Partnerships Lead because I get exposed to both the strategic, big picture stuff, but am also embedded in our direct delivery work and get to see our impact on the ground.
I really believe our work is core in creating more connected communities. We intentionally place our work locally so that schools and youth groups are no more than a 15-minute walk from a sheltered scheme or retirement community. Older participants often tell us that they see children outside of workshops – they’re always surprised when the children remember their names and say hello! I like to think of it as a catalyst. We create a welcoming space for older and younger generations to connect which then sparks further connections within the community.
Through our work, we build purposeful relationships that build confidence and skills, as well as dispelling old narratives that older and younger generations have nothing in common. This is key to building more inclusive connected age-friendly communities and I’m grateful to be part of a project working towards that.
What am I most proud of in all of this? To date, we’ve made over 2,350 connections between different generations and last year 91% of older people told us that attending a workshop made them feel happier – these are things I’m very proud of!
What do you see as the biggest challenge in your work?
I think it’s hard for me to talk about the biggest challenges in my work, because lots of them will be challenges faced by the whole sector, such as access to funding.
When it comes to our participants, I think Covid still has a huge impact, particularly with the older residents that we work with. We run our sessions in the communal areas of retirement homes. These areas were closed off during the pandemic and people were told to isolate and stay in their homes. We’re now asking these same people to not only spend time in a space that was said to be unsafe, but also to spend time with children who they were specifically told to avoid! Overcoming these barriers, alongside rebuilding people’s social and emotional confidence can be hard, particularly when Covid isn’t really spoken about in the mainstream any more.
Thinking about the work of your organisation, what do you think works particularly well?
We place a huge emphasis on building reciprocal relationships and giving purpose to the older volunteers on our programme. We value everyone’s experience and contribution and our older volunteers take their roles seriously. We’ve recently launched an Intergenerational Panel to listen to the needs, wants and ideas of everyone who experiences our programmes. We had older volunteers travel in taxis across London to have their voices heard – it was wonderful to see. Giving purpose to people who are often written off in society is something that we do really well and our volunteers have offered over 3,000 hours of their time through our programmes.
We’ve also made huge efforts to develop an anti-prejudice agenda. For us, anti-prejudice means going beyond a formal EDI policy and actively challenging prejudice across all workstreams. I’m particularly proud of our anti-prejudice facilitation guidance (we’d be happy to share this if anyone is interested). We’ve recently appointed an Anti-Prejudice Lead who is brilliant and holds us all accountable. We’re always looking to learn more so please reach out to us if you’d like to start a conversation.
Is there anything specific you would like to offer other members of the network?
Based on our own learnings, we’d love to support others in running intergenerational projects across the UK. We’ve recently launched a digital platform to support grassroots projects across the country to grow and thrive. If you’d like to know more, then please reach out to me. We also have a bank of free resources on the InCommon website.
Is there anything specific you would like other members to help you with?
From 28 November-5 December, we’re aiming to raise £8,000 which will help us connect a retirement home and a school for a year of intergenerational friendship. This is an ambitious target but a great opportunity as all donations in that period will be doubled – that means one donation, twice the impact.
We would be very grateful for any support – whether that’s donating to the campaign or sharing it more widely.
If other members would like to connect with you, how can they best contact you?