During the summer of 2019, Holistic Harmonies worked with Clare McCarroll, an older person’s specialist physiotherapist, to run a programme of intergenerational music and movement sessions in a nursing home in Liverpool. The programme engaged residents, alongside local parents and their pre-school children in six free one hour-long sessions incorporating familiar songs and accessible dance movements. The intention of the programme was to bring benefits to the residents who are often isolated, to encourage movement, positive feelings, and to provide an opportunity to allow for social connections to occur between generations.
In order to understand the impact of the programme on participants, Holistic Harmonies worked with Shortwork to gather qualitative findings of the benefits of involvement from the prospective residents, parents, children, session leaders and nursing home staff, as well as the challenges encountered along the way.
The evaluation supports previous studies highlighting the benefits of involvement in intergenerational sessions for young children and older adults. These include fun and enjoyment, increased activity and movement, life enhancing social interactions, and a sense of purpose and of making a positive contribution to others.
In contrast to previous studies, the evaluation also shows that the benefits of singing and dancing together are also shared by the middle generation of parents and particularly mothers. These benefits include a sense of giving back and contributing; meeting new people and feeling connected to others; and the positivity generated by engaging in a shared arts-based activity, including a feeling of joy, being active, being in the moment and letting go.
A key finding from the evaluation is that these positive aspects are not automatic, but are actively promoted by the structure and ethos of the music and movement sessions. These include a mixture of songs that appeal to the young and old; repetition so that participants learn and become familiar with songs and movements and know what to expect from week to week; space between songs to encourage informal interactions between participants; and making a conscious effort to acknowledge everyone in the room and show their contribution is valued.
The evaluation also highlights a number of barriers to participation that need to be overcome. These include finding the right environment and timing for the sessions that suits all participants, and problems with continuity due to a lack of funding, and changes in staff in the care home-environment.
These findings point to the negative effect of the separation of the young, middle aged and older people in our communities, and lend force to the need to support inter-generational programmes that bring together the generations.
This pilot was completed before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak shut down care homes to visitors, and forced an even greater divide between the oldest old and younger generation. Whilst COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities intergenerational sessions can not happen in care homes. However, the problems of loneliness have not gone away but have been exposed and worsened in a context where older people are disproportionately at risk from COVID-19 and the impact of social distancing (Brook and Jackson, 2020). This crisis offers many challenges, but the need for intergenerational interaction is all the more urgent in these times. As the lockdown eases, community organisations, including Holistic Harmonies, are seeking new ways to engage older people in a safe way using a mixture of online and outdoor approaches. There is work to be done to find new approaches to delivery, whilst also rethinking what is possible – we need to build back better.
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