Intergenerational physical activity inspires kindness amid Coronavirus

Children send ‘activity isolation packs’ to their elderly activity buddies

On National Intergenerational Week (23 to 29 March) and as the country faces some of the toughest measures in peacetime history, school children across the country are supporting their elderly ‘activity buddies’ by sending them self-isolation activity packs.

While it is not possible for young and old to mix in the current pandemic, in Derbyshire and Dorset, school children who are taking part in an intergenerational physical activity programme, have taken the initiative to write to their elderly friends in care homes and elderly settings to set them exercises as homework until they can see them again.

The self-isolation activity pack contains a letter from the children to their older activity buddies with positive messages of hope, ideas to keep active, a balloon, a paper ball, and a target challenge.

Children’s charity, the Youth Sport Trust which is behind the programme, says the health and wellbeing benefits of intergenerational sport and play could not be clearer and it wants children across the country to follow suit and share a bit of kindness, keep connected and help their elders keep active during social distancing.

The action-based research programme ran in five areas across the country last year to improve the wellbeing and activity levels of young and old alike. New evaluations of the programme published today show that by bringing older adults and young people together, both gained a better view of one another and their happiness levels improved.

Young people (95%) had a better view of older people after the programme and older people (90%) felt their perceptions had improved. The report also revealed that 94% of young people felt they had better empathy after being involved in the project and both age groups had improved happiness levels.

Janice Price, from Rural Derbyshire School Sport Partnership, said:

To help the residents at Waltham House who are now self-isolating, our students are still playing the role of "Activity Buddy", encouraging the residents to do their daily fix of six exercises and take part in some simple challenges and fun activities. Students are making up their own balloon challenge and paper ball target challenge for care home residents, ensuring when they write to them that their instructions are clear and easy to follow. We’re hoping this will keep spirits up and encourage the residents to take part in daily activity.

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 our findings are hugely promising. Findings from the project evaluation can restore our faith in humanity and the power of connection through sport.

Through Active Across Ages we have 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 and volunteering support better mental wellbeing and so it is vital, in these unprecedented times, we continue to innovate new ways to support the hardest to reach and keep those most at risk moving.

A resident at a Derbyshire care home who is taking part in the programme really valued the regular visits from school children. She loved that the children treated her and the other older adults with respect and interacted with them as they would anyone else.

Apart from these sessions, the resident doesn’t have many opportunities to be around young people as all her family have grown up and she has limited mobility.

The care home said the programme has also encouraged its residents to be more active and they have now requested an exercise room.

National Intergenerational Week is coordinated by the St Monica Trust, celebrating the power of connections between age groups.

Campaign lead at the St Monica Trust, Ben Dunn, said:

There couldn’t be a more important time for intergenerational connection. While social distancing takes place there’s still so much we can do to support each other without sharing the same space. We’ve been massively encouraged to see so many contributing creative ideas for doing so during the week so far.

The pilot project funded through the charity’s international arm, Youth Sport Trust International and the Sir John Beckwith Charitable Trust, boosted social mixing among the young and old to promote social wellbeing, enhanced physical and mental wellbeing across ages, and encouraged social action and social capital.

Active Across Ages was delivered in Derbyshire, Dorset, Cheshire, Merseyside, and Buckinghamshire, but the charity has hopes to find a funder to roll the scheme out wider to make the programme accessible to more schools and older people’s settings when it is safe to do so.

For more information or to pledge support visit www.youthsporttrust.org/active-across-ages  

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