Play time and sport with school children just what the doctor ordered

School children across the country are supporting ‘at risk’ older adults to lead healthy and happy lives through a new project developed by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust and supported by GPs.

The programme brings the two loneliest generations together to play sport and get active and has seen a GP surgery in Weymouth start to prescribe older adults at risk of loneliness regular walks with young people.

The launch of Active Across Ages comes after the Youth Sport Trust and founder, Sir John Beckwith, wanted to create an initiative to tackle loneliness and declining wellbeing in the two most at risk age groups. The Office of National Statistics revealed in 2018 that 14% of 10-12-year-olds often felt lonely and Age UK report there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people within the UK.

The project supports recently retired individuals or those with long-term health conditions to have good overall wellbeing. It is currently delivered in five areas across the country and builds on the charity’s 25 years of experience in engaging the hardest to reach young people through sporting interventions in schools and communities.

In each of the care homes and schools, different approaches to getting active have been taken with activities like beach ball tennis, skittles and dancing. In Derbyshire, school children have learnt about playground games of the past including Oranges and Lemons from their pairings, changing attitudes and developing positive relationships with one another. In Buckinghamshire, improving communication and confidence to interact between the two age groups through physical activity has been a focus.

Ali Goodall, development manager at the Youth Sport Trust, said:

Active Across Ages is trying to tackle some of the biggest issues of a generation like inactivity and loneliness, and the initial results are hugely promising.

The project sees school aged ‘activity buddies’ and older people based in care homes, or who might be isolated in their community, paired up to design and enjoy physical activity initiatives together. We’ve seen that attitudes and perceptions towards other generations have been improved and young people are telling us through the project they have a better understanding of older people’s needs and have developed how they see themselves and others within society.

Evidence suggests that physical activity supports better mental wellbeing and so it is vital we continue to innovate new ways to support the hardest to reach.

In Weymouth, Bincombe Valley Primary School and The Wey Valley Academy, have paired up with The Acorns Day Centre - which hosts older people with and without dementia. 22 young people attend the centre once a week to do musical warm up sessions, walks, target games, and Boccia.

After engaging with Public Health Dorset and the local GP surgery in Weymouth, the charity said social prescriptions will include six park-walk sessions to be run by the school activity buddies at Bincombe Valley.

Rob Belbin, inclusion lead for Dorset, said:

The older people always look forward to the younger people coming in, which is just brilliant. Every time we leave, the centre staff will say that this is brilliant, and it is the best thing they’ve done in a long time. I love the way that I have seen the children completely change as far as their understanding goes about society – which has been the greatest benefit.

Already the project has found that 40% of the young people who took part felt Active Across Ages had helped them to feel less lonely, 69% said it helped them to feel happier, and 61% said it helped them to be more active.

For older people, the biggest observed benefit to date has been an increase in their overall social wellbeing. Active Across Ages is the only opportunity that many of the participants get to spend time with children and young people.

It has seen several selective mutes at Acorns Day Centre engage in conversation with the young people and be more motivated in the mornings to attend. They have also become more vibrant and physically active.

Currently funded through the charity’s international arm, Youth Sport Trust International and the Sir John Beckwith Charitable Trust, the project has ambitions to boost social mixing in the young and old to promote social wellbeing, enhance physical and mental wellbeing across ages, and encourage social action and social capital.

Active Across Ages is currently being delivered in Derbyshire, Dorset, Cheshire, Merseyside, and Buckinghamshire, but the charity has hopes to find a funder to roll the scheme out wider before March 2020.

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Published on 1 October 2019