This is part of a series of conversations with member organisations of the Connection Coalition.
Alison Clyde is CEO of Generations Working Together, the center of excellence for intergenerational work in Scotland. The organization has grown rapidly in the last few years and, with a strong team in place, has become a prominent voice in advocating for intergenerational practice across the UK and internationally.
With global intergenerational week on the horizon (24-30 April), Alison sat down to chat with the Jo Cox Foundation about their work, the global campaign, and the importance of embedding intergenerational work across society.
Why is intergenerational practice important?
We tend to segregate people by age, which can mean different generations see themselves as separate entities in our communities. That can lead to misunderstanding, prejudice and fear between age groups, which can in turn encourage social isolation and loneliness.
Intergenerational practice very clearly benefits the individuals directly involved. Connection with people of very different ages helps challenge any damaging assumptions and prejudice they might hold. This connection can also help young people understand their own aging. And the activity can help build the confidence of people of all ages.
Crucially though, intergenerational practice is also beneficial for the people around the individuals involved – their families, friends and their wider communities. Through the breaking down of prejudice, this kind of practice helps tackle social isolation and loneliness, building bridges between people who may not usually connect, and so contributes to making our communities more cohesive and resilient.
More in Common
So put simply, the aim of intergenerational practice is to bring people together in activities which promote greater understanding and respect between people of different generations. For that aim to be met, the activities that people take part in have to be purposeful and mutually beneficial.
The right kind of activities, in the right kind of environments, that aren’t ‘badged’ for particular age groups, can show that people of different ages often have more in common than is generally acknowledged.
Essential, not nice
There’s long been an attitude that bringing people of different ages together is a nice thing to do. Infants playing with older people in a nursing home and bringing each other joy – of course it’s a lovely thing. But it’s not just that, this work is absolutely essential.
Covid changed our perceptions around how important using an intergenerational approach could be for everyone.. The challenges of the pandemic were overwhelming for people across the country and many great projects ended due to the complexities of how to safely bring younger and older people together. As a result we wanted to build resilience in intergenerational work by supporting people to build stronger and sustainable projects. To do this we began a partnership with Linking Generations Northern Ireland (LGNI) and Apples and Honey Nightingale to create a quality standards toolkit in intergenerational practice and to pilot the toolkit across the UK to over 30 projects. One key area of change within the toolkit involves training to increase knowledge and confidence for everyone involved and not just lying with one key person.
Therefore we are changing the way we view and do intergenerational practice, it’s no longer an add on. We’re working with intergenerational partners to change this ‘nice’ narrative, to make this work sustainable and ensure it grows and doesn’t disappear. This will be our call to action on 14 February.
Global Intergenerational Week
On 14 February we’re launching Global Intergenerational Week 2024, which will take place between 24-30 April. There will be a launch event held online at 1pm (UK time) on 14 Feb, registration for that is open now! (details here)
This is an annual campaign, now in its fifth year. It always falls on exactly the same dates each year.
This year there is a different theme for each day. Day 1 is about raising awareness of intergenerational practice and its benefits. Day 2 is around building strong and sustainable partnerships. Day 3 is specifically about combating loneliness and social isolation. The other themes involve ageism, solidarity, workplaces and intergenerational spaces and communities.
We’ll be running seminars that week on different topics, such as how to get funding for intergenerational work. We’ll be encouraging the sharing of resources and advice on activities that have proved effective in meeting the aims of intergenerational practice. And we’ll also be running photo challenges and encouraging a lot of noise on social media.
We want to attract people that are new to intergenerational practice as well as those who have been working in the area for a while. We’ll be engaging with those working at grassroots level all the way up to national government. And as the name suggests it goes beyond the UK – we have 15 countries involved this year.
The international context
We run 18 local support networks in Scotland, meeting in person and online. We’re also part of an emerging UK network, with a new national intergenerational center recently launched in England (CIPRD) and lead partners in Wales and Northern Ireland (LGNI).
Looking further afield, we’re connected with partners in numerous other countries. The US has been doing this work for longer than us, often ‘co-locating’ nurseries and homes for older people, and we’ve learnt a lot from their experiences and knowledge. Australia has been exploring intergenerational work academically for a while, and two years ago launched their national Institute for Intergenerational Practice.
Similarly, Generations Working Together is a national center for intergenerational practice here in Scotland recognised for our expertise in the field. The process for us becoming a nationally recognised center started back in 2007 when a Scottish Government consultation acted upon research showing more segregation happening between age groups, greater movement of people in and between our communities and increasing fragmentation within families.
It’s that fragmentation that means we tend not to work with familial models, though of course families remain incredibly important in bridging barriers between ages – and in fact there remains a lot of this kind of kinship work in the US and in the UK.
I’d say to anyone reading this who is interested in intergenerational practice to visit our website and reach out to our staff team if you have questions. If you live outside of Scotland you can still be a member however there is also the option of connecting with your own national center. For England visit CIPRD , Northern Ireland LGNI and we have connections for the Welsh network, so lots of ways to connect and learn more. GWT’s membership is free for a great many people and we’ve recently introduced new membership categories for international members which we hope will make it more affordable for others.