Letters from youngers to olders
Intergenerational opportunities are key to reducing ageism which is one of the biggest factors negatively impacting the wellbeing of older people. With the COVID-19 Pandemic requiring everyone to be physically distant it created a need to rethink how we connect across generations.
City of Whittlesea was acutely aware that older people were being advised to stay at home and regular social activities had been cancelled. For many, this meant they were at home alone and possibly lonely. Local Service Providers sought confirmation through wellbeing telephone checks with older people that their essential needs were being addressed. The gap was with their social wellbeing, many older people missed seeing their grandchildren and had no interest in using digital technologies or did not have devices in their homes.
This saw the creation of “Ageless Friendship – Letters to an Elder”. Schools and early learning facilities were invited to write a letter to an elder. The joy a person gets from opening a hand-written letter lets the older person know that they are an important part of our community and that there are people thinking about them. The content of the letters was flexible; however no identifying information about the child was allowed.
Students were encouraged to write or draw a letter for an older person. The letters often contained jokes, descriptions of a perfect day, a story that made them laugh and generally lots of colour. The student posted the letter to a Reply-Paid Post Box and Council staff scanned every letter for privacy and arranged for the letter to be sent to an older person.
The student may not have known the individual who would receive the letter, but they understood the positive impact it would bring. The follow quote comes from a Year 9 Teacher “… I wish you could see the lightness in the room that writing these letters has created for my students. They take such pride in having the opportunity to write to people in the community and help bring some brightness to their day. Know that there is good in the world and the young people of today have great love in their hearts and are thinking of those who are being impacted by the current crisis”.
The older person was encouraged to write a reply and was provided with a writing stationery kit. The letters were posted to older people who would normally attend social support programs through the Council, local Residential Aged Care Facilities and any older person who asked to be included.
When letters started to arrive from older people the true impact of this simple concept was realised. The excitement in the replies, the common jokes and the history of other monumental moments in time shared. A message from a Residential Facility Manager “Our residents loved the letters and art work from the school. Some of our residents didn’t have words to express how they felt. Some were in tears”.
Victorians entered social distancing in mid-March 2020 and letters started to arrive from schools within two weeks. Having local government broker the project supported its rapid delivery by being able to engage swiftly across industry sectors – children, young people, older people and the community development area. The process and materials produced by City of Whittlesea were distributed to other local governments allowing for the sharing of resources. Several other local governments have now moved forward with the concept and tweaked it for their local needs.
The Ageless Friendship project has expanded to provide other opportunities for positive intergenerational relationships, such as googling grandparents and playgroup videos.
The letters to Elders project has started to move into its next phase with Aged Care providers invited to connect with a local school / kindergarten to build long term connections between older people and children. Council staff initiate the connections and assist the groups in finding their common goals. In such a short amount of time we have had eight new intergenerational partnerships establish. Some are continuing with the letter writing as part of a VCAL program and others are enjoying exploring alternate communication platforms such as a zoom session between residents of Aged Care Facility and kindergarten students.
This project strengthened opportunities for intergenerational activities during a time of physical distancing. It encouraged children and older people to have social contact while maintaining physical distance. People did not require digital technology to participate. The sharing of knowledge and experiences between school students and older residents was priceless and provided joy during challenging times.
[Source: Catherine Simcox, Ageing Well Planner, City of Whittlesea, Catherine.Simcox@whittlesea.vic.gov.au, www.whittlesea.vic.gov.au ]