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Mixing Matters
Shared sites for young and old

Stephen Burke explores the benefits of shared sites for young and old and why you should consider it.

Britain is one of the most age segregated societies in the world, particularly for the youngest and oldest generations. This can breed myths and stereotypes, misunderstanding, ageism and exclusion. That’s why we believe mixing matters.

In our work since 2010, United for All Ages has been highlighting issues arising from age segregation or ‘age apartheid’ and how it can be tackled. One way to promote more integration and mixing between the generations is the sharing of sites where activities involving older and younger people take place alongside and with each other.

Shared sites range from traditional community centres to the co-location of older people’s housing with care schemes and childcare facilities. There are many models of shared sites.

Progress in shared care

2017 saw significant progress in bringing older and young people together for the benefit of all generations and our wider society. There is increasing interest in co-location and increasing recognition of the social and economic benefits.

While many more examples can be found in other countries, there has been a growth in the UK of ‘shared sites’, from nurseries co-locating with care homes and older people’s housing, to schools, sheltered housing and community hubs working together.

Media coverage has helped stimulate this grassroots action. The Channel 4 programme, Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, and the coverage of the Apples and Honey Nightingale care home nursery in south-west London have created huge interest and prompted many nurseries and parent and toddler groups to link-up with their local care homes and older people’s housing schemes.

Meanwhile, other examples are emerging. Downshall Primary School in East London is hosting a day centre for older people with depression and dementia. A sheltered housing scheme in Cambridge is letting some flats to students in return for volunteering with the older residents. There are many different ways to support mixing between generations.

Tackling age apartheid

United for All Ages sees mixing between generations as key to tackling age apartheid. The benefits are many – not just for those directly involved, but for their families and the wider community. We also believe that shared sites will not just improve the experiences of those using care services, for example, but ultimately, it will improve the quality of care and other services used by different generations.

Britain is crying out for positive change. Economically, more needs to be done to address intergenerational fairness through affordable housing, wealth and taxation. Socially, mixing through shared sites provides thousands of opportunities across the country to bring people together for the benefit of all generations.

Local people and their communities are taking the lead. By 2022, United for All Ages expects to see at least 500 shared sites across the UK. Many are building on existing activities and facilities. Some will be based in new developments.

The benefits of intergenerational care settings

There’s a wide range of benefits and beneficiaries from shared sites. A shared site scheme, such as an older people’s care and housing scheme co-located with a children’s nursery, can have the following benefits:

  • Older residents experience more activities, less isolation and loneliness, and better physical and mental health.
  • Children experience enhanced early learning and social development, giving them confidence.
  • Parents also get to interact with older people and can go to work knowing their children have good childcare.
  • Relatives and families of older people benefit from their increased interaction and better health.
  • Providers of eldercare and childcare have a USP, reduced costs and happier clients.
  • Staff of both providers have more interesting opportunities, as well as childcare support if they need it.
  • All involved can share experiences, activities, learning and mutual understanding.
  • The wider community has a centre for all ages that they can use and share locally.

For older people’s housing and care providers, the economic benefits of co-location also include:

  • Sharing back office costs: from maintenance and catering to IT, HR, training and management.
  • Marketing across generations: reaching different parts of the same family whose care needs will change over time from childcare to eldercare.
  • Creating a USP: pioneers of co-located care have a special offer to families needing care.
  • Sharing skills and learning of staff: opportunities to grow and develop staff.
  • Recruitment and retention of staff: one of the biggest challenges for many providers, co-location provides opportunities for staff to undertake new challenges in different settings as well as access to childcare where they work.
  • Providing community facilities: a co-located or shared site will become a magnet at the centre of communities and be in demand from others looking for space, activities etc.
  • Growing demand: our ageing population means a growing demand for care, which will help businesses become more sustainable, while demand for childcare grows as more parents work.

These benefits have been realised by shared sites in other countries, from the USA, Canada and Australia to Japan, Singapore and elsewhere in Europe. The UK is catching up. Now more evaluation needs to be undertaken of the emerging schemes in the UK.

Starting young is the way to change our society and attitudes towards ageing.

Sliding scale of approaches

Every day, news emerges of joint activities between nurseries and older people’s housing and care schemes across the country.

These developments reflect a sliding scale of interaction and intergenerational care:

  • Nurseries undertaking occasional visits to care homes, for example, at Christmas.
  • Nurseries and parent and toddler groups visiting care homes on a weekly basis and undertaking structured and spontaneous activities.
  • Nurseries and care homes that are located nextdoor or as close neighbours enabling more frequent joint planned activities.
  • Nurseries and care homes located on the same site that undertake some joint activities during the week.
  • Nurseries and care homes that are co-located and fully-integrated where older people, children, staff and families interact every day in both planned and informal ways.

The scope for new activities is massive given the number of older people’s housing and care providers and the number of childcare providers in the UK. Most will be on existing sites of housing with care providers – some developments will convert unused space and facilities for nurseries, some will be new builds in the grounds. There will also be new developments enabling the opportunity for purpose-built, integrated facilities for older people and children in the heart of communities where their families live and need care.

International experience shows that there are many models of intergenerational care. The key is to get going right across the sliding scale of intergenerational interaction as schemes are rolled out and evaluated in the UK.

Mixing Matters

United for All Ages’ new report Mixing Matters sets out why increasing connections between generations is key to the health, wellbeing and future of individuals, communities and, ultimately, our country.

While Britain has become more age-segregated in recent decades, the report demonstrates there is a growing movement to tackle ‘age apartheid’. It focuses on how older and younger people can come together through ‘shared sites’ with many inspiring and practical examples that could be replicated across the UK. Four specific themes are explored:

  • Shared care and play.
  • Shared housing and living.
  • Shared learning and work.
  • Shared community spaces and activities.

Our ambition is for 500 shared sites to be developed by 2022. With some 75,000 care homes, nurseries and schools in the UK, there is massive scope for the shared sites challenge to achieve much more.

To make this happen, we need action and support from:

Policymakers: support and promote mixing between different ages, explaining why it’s key to creating a stronger Britain at all levels as part of national strategies for our ageing society and intergenerational fairness.

  • Providers: build links with other local providers to facilitate intergenerational interaction; share lessons about what works (and doesn’t); learn from each other and get on with it.
  • Regulators: recognise the importance of intergenerational interactions to older people and young people in the inspection and regulation of care, education and housing services; offer guidance to providers.
  • Local authorities: bring providers of services for older people and young people together; transfer assets to support community-based businesses and organisations; develop strategies to create communities for all ages.
  • Planners, developers, architects: think ‘mixing’ when planning and developing new and existing care, housing, education and other community schemes.
  • Evaluators: provide evidence of what works and why, recognising there are many models of shared sites.
  • Funders: support capital and revenue funding bids to make mixing happen.
  • Service users, families and staff: ensure they are involved from the early stages of all intergenerational projects; don’t underestimate the enthusiasm of the public whatever their age for bringing older and younger people together.

We are now working with a wide range of older people’s care and housing providers to make this vision a reality.

Stephen Burke is Director of United for All Ages. Email: Twitter: @united4allages

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