In what has become a mid-morning routine at the Nightingale care home in Clapham, a group of Apples and Honey Nursery children play excitedly in one of the residential areas.
As they dance, sing and throw and catch balloons lying above or beneath a voluminous “parachute” sheet, some of the residents seated in a surrounding circle engage enthusiastically.
They clap and sing along with the youngsters to old time favourites such as It’s A Long Way To Tipperary — and stamp their feet in unison as children and staff perform a raucous rendition of The Grand Old Duke Of York.
One resident comforts a crying child. Another holds the hand of a birthday celebrant while others converse animatedly with the two- and three-year-olds.
Nursery principal Judith Ish-Horowicz eventually announces: “We are doing our goodbye song but we are not going. We are going to have a chat.”
Observing the scene with a smile as broad as most of the participants is Nightingale Hammerson CEO Helen Simmons.
The opening of Apples and Honey on the Nightingale site in September as “the UK’s first intergenerational nursery” has breathed new life into the home as bonds are forged between the children and residents.
Given that Nightingale incorporates six units “each the size of a care home”, the nursery kids visit a different part of the premises each day. Joint activities have included pizza making, animal petting, gardening and a sports day.
Ms Simmons explains that with around ten per cent of the home’s 183 residents aged 100 or above, grandchildren could be in their 50s.
“There is a whole section of society we were not seeing in the building. This has created a whole new buzz. We want the care sector to improve services and the nursery is one way.”
Both Ms Simmons and Ms Ish-Horowicz cite instances of residents with no children of their own bottle feeding those brought to the weekly, and oversubscribed, babies and toddlers group.
For the nursery itself, the initial intake was 18 and numbers will rise to up to 30 in September.
Although most of the children are not Jewish, there is significant Jewish content and the food is kosher. In a nod both to kashrut and healthy eating, the birthday celebrant’s “animal cake” is comprised entirely of fruit, “except for the peppercorn eyes for the dolphins”, Ms Ish-Horowicz explains. “And they were removed before eating.”
She adds that “being here gives us a richness of activity. We do things we would not be able to do elsewhere.”
Joining in with nursery activities is a means to keep residents active. “It looks like it just happens but actually it is carefully planned.
“And the children take on responsibilities you would not expect for their age. When they move around the residents, they are careful not to tread on their toes.
“Some children do not have grandparents locally so parents have chosen us especially. It also helps with care staff recruitment [a Nightingale employee has a child in the nursery].”
The venture has captured the media’s imagination with the BBC and CNN among the many outlets which have recorded features. And there has been global interest from educators and welfare providers.
“It’s unusual but so obvious,” Ms Ish-Horowicz reflects. “I can’t understand why it hasn’t happened before.”
The success of the nursery has prompted Ms Simmons to ponder the virtue of opening up the building to another generation — students.
“We have a spare floor and there are ideas vying for its use. It could be student accommodation, maybe for student nurses.
“It makes you think innovatively about how more amazing it could be.”
At present, the home’s staff turnover figure is around 20 per cent.
Pre-Brexit vote, the charity ran a successful recruitment drive in Greece and half those taken on are still on the payroll.
Now Nightingale is looking beyond the EU for general nursing staff and will be conducting interviews via Skype for applicants from the Philippines.