When early years pioneer Judith Ish-Horowicz MBE observed young children visiting a care home developing bonds with the residents, she realised that an onsite nursery could benefit everyone.
She asked the Jewish care home provider Nightingale Hammerson if they would consider having a nursery in their grounds - and the UK’s first intergenerational nursery was born.
There is now a long waiting list for Apples and Honey Nightingale, in Wandsworth, which opened in 2017 to two-to-five-year-olds, and later, in 2021, launched a baby room for three months-plus.
The intergenerational setting has reaped numerous benefits for both residents and children ever since.
The average age of residents entering Nightingale Hammerson is 92, and many have limited family and have never had children because they did not find their life partner.
“Watching them bottle-feed a baby for the first time, sharing their thoughts, is just amazing,” says Ish-Horowicz. “It makes them feel like they have a new lease of life.”
The residents - known as “grandfriends” - become part of the educational team as they speak to the children and share their wisdom and life stories. “They have so much to share,” says Ish-Horowicz. “And they have so much time on their hands. The children are learning from living history.”
Children also learn respect, and both gain a sense of responsibility for each other; while the residents help with the babies and share knowledge, children can help to push wheelchairs, gaining maturity that they might not otherwise. The staff have also observed that the children’s communication and language is advanced in comparison to those who have not experienced the same opportunities.
There are around four programmed intergenerational activities daily. These have included an animal corner, art, cooking and gardening, the latter of which has involved residents and children making pots of honey extracted from the beehives or lavender sacks for one another. “What I love is the fact that the grandfriends can share their skills,” explains Ish-Horowicz.
They also take part in rituals together, such as making Havdalah and Kabbalat Shabbat. Ish-Horowicz is closely involved in the Jewish element of the programme. Every week, they look at the Torah, turning their illustrated scroll to allow children to discuss what they see, and learn the stories. It helps the team to find concepts - hospitality, relationships, making peace - that they can use to inform their educational planning.
Ish-Horowicz spoke at Nightingale Hammerson’s recent Care Home Research Forum, where she shared details on the development of intergenerational practice.
Currently, she is planning and developing sustainable, mutually beneficial intergenerational programmes beyond the offerings at the Nightingale Hammerson care homes. As part of a National Lottery community-funded project, over the next two years, Ish-Horowicz is planning to support 10 new intergenerational community spaces, in person and online.
“We call them 'spaces' because we don't want to limit it,” explains Ish-Horowicz. “It could be anywhere you come together and is intergenerational. It's really exciting.”
She also helps to run accredited courses, from introductory to Level 3 in intergenerational practice, and the first residential summer school to train in intergenerational practice is set to open in July.
Ish-Horowicz sees the practice as a key to easing the challenges of living in a fractured society. “I just want it to be established, sustainable and seen as the way for us to create a cohesive society that’s caring, compassionate and functional, where we will learn from each other and with each other. [At Nightingale], it's win-win on every element.”
It can also help to combat the soaring mental health problems and isolation that are rife in post-Covid times, says Ish-Horowicz. “There is so much loneliness and there's a lack of trust. But if you don’t build trust from the top, how can you expect to have it in the grassroots? What's exciting for me is what we're doing with these community spaces is very much grassroots-led.”
She adds that “incredible ageism” has impacted all generations. “It works both ways, that people stereotype young and older people, and, because of people having had to move for work, we've lost that extended family that we need. So, this is a form of extended family that everyone should be part of.”
The intergenerational practice at Apples and Honey Nightingale is also cost-effective. They work alongside the therapies team and with doctors, where they can sometimes be a social prescription for elderly patients instead of - or alongside - antidepressants and other such medications.
“There are cost savings in keeping people happily stimulated with purpose and meaning in a care home - the care home doesn't have to be a horrible place, where people just sit and are miserable. There's so much opportunity. It's a no brainer.”