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NELFT NHS Foundation Trust provides a range of  community health and mental health services across the north east London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, Essex and Kent and Medway

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An innovative collaboration at a primary school in Ilford is making the headlines

At Downshall Primary School in Ilford, a new, innovative project has been launched that brings together a group of NELFT’s older adult patients with reception class children. The aim of the project is to provide structured activities between the older adults and the school’s pupils.

There have been projects elsewhere involving children visiting care homes, but the Downshall Project is thought to be the first to host an activity centre for older people who visit the school to help the children in their classes.

Due the unique nature of the project, it’s garnered attention from the national media and has been featured in the Guardian newspaper and on BBC Breakfast – which included interviews with Downshall Head Teacher Ian Bennett (pictured) and NELFT’s Dr David Hinchcliffe.

As one of the driving forces behind the idea, we spoke to Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist Dr David Hinchcliffe to find out why the project was set up and how it benefits both the children and older adults.

Can you explain the function of the project?

The function of the Downshall Intergenerational Project ‘Bringing Together, Learning Together, Growing Together’ is to provide a social hub that brings together older adult patients from NELFT’s Redbridge Older Adults Mental Health Team/Redbridge Memory Service and reception class children at Downshall. It runs three days a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) from 10am to 1pm and provides structured activities between the older adults and the children, incorporating the ideas behind Cognitive Stimulation Therapy whilst still following the National Curriculum.

Why was the project established?

The initial thoughts behind the project were of service provision in an ageing population. Social interventions are a valuable part of someone’s treatment, along with biological and psychological interventions. Post-recovery they are helpful in reducing social isolation, loneliness and a risk of relapse. Generic activity centres can often feel intimidating to patients who are experiencing or have recently experienced difficulties with their mental health. At Redbridge Older Adults Mental Health Team we have wanted to start a social group for our patients for some time, especially ones that may have finished their treatment and are ready for discharge back to primary care.

In Japan, there has long been a focus on developing models of social integration, borne of a gradual change in society towards fragmented families in urban settings, a rise in social isolation of older adults and a rise in the proportion of older adults as life expectancy rises.

There are numerous models of intergenerational working, from older adults supporting and serving the young, youth supporting or serving older adults, older people and youths engaging together in shared activities and older adults and the young sharing sites. This intergenerational culture has been slow to expand out of Japan, but there are models appearing in the US as well as Europe. In the UK there are very few examples.

Who are the organisations that work together on the project?

I approached Mr Ian Bennett, the headmaster of Downshall Primary School which is local to our team base and suggested looking into a project that brought together the pupils of the school and NELFT older adult patients in Redbridge. He was very enthusiastic about this idea and we eventually decided on a model that created an activity centre for older adults within the school that could operate as a base for organised activities between the older adults and the children.

We brought together expertise from NELFT, London Borough of Redbridge and Age UK to form a steering group to design the project and further develop it over time. As NELFT and LBR have now integrated their Health and Social Services into four cluster hubs within Redbridge we had already established close working relationships with many of the people we involved in the project. Lions Club International has also very kindly been raising funds to support the project.

Day to day, the project is run by staff from the school, staff seconded from Elderberries Day Centre, which is an LBR service, as well as volunteers from AgeUK. We also have input from Redbridge Music Lounge, a charity that performs at a variety of events in Redbridge and neighbouring boroughs. The older adult participants are referred into the project from staff at NELFT, who continue to monitor feedback and progress.

What would be the benefits for both the young and older people who attend?

There is much research on the benefits of various Intergenerational Projects for both younger and older people.

The benefits for Younger People include: positive changes in perceptions and attitudes about older people, prosocial behaviours, personal growth, increased self-confidence and self-efficacy, better behaviour in school, reduced anxiety, increased self-management skills at school and interest in school work, enhanced self-regulation, and higher standardised reading test scores.

The benefits for Older People include: greater life satisfaction, physical activity and engagement, enhanced emotional well-being, decreased depressed affect, increased self-confidence and self-efficacy, and increased social interaction.

Do you see the project being expanded in the future?

We have started with smaller numbers of participants with an aim of nine older adults per day (most people attend one day a week) over the next few months. We hope to expand the project to include transport to and from the school, as well as expand from three to five days per week. Beyond the day to day activities we hope to use our new relationships with the school to promote mental health awareness and ultimately a mental health and dementia friendly community. We have already started Mental Health Awareness workshops which will continue to run once per term, providing education about mental health to the parents and grandparents of all children at the school.

Thanks to David for his time and we hope that this inspirational project continues to be a huge success.

To read more about the project, visit Downshall Primary School’s website: www.downshallprimary.co.uk/redbridge/primary/downshall/arenas/websitecontent/web/flyerreintergenerationalactivitycentre.pdf